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January 2011 issue

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January 2011 issue
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Page 6 - Mac Mini
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World Mail    January 2011 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.

 


 

luxman-l-550a-amp

 

Get a Luxman amplifier with tone controls to cure hi-fi addiction, says Greg. Here's a modern Luxman amplifier.



I’M CURED

I read with interest the editor’s piece on the first page of the November issue and the “what’s best for you..” message struck a chord with me.

I know this is going to be a strange one but I am not writing for advice.  In fact I am writing to let you know that Audiophilia Nervosa is curable, should you want to be cured. I have gone through the mill of pre-power amps, power supplies for everything, valve monoblocks, standalone phono stages, in-vogue set ups (Voyd, Audio Innovations, Snell), out of fashion set ups, mismatched, etc, etc. Once I had a valve amplifier rig that consisted of seven boxes, the lights almost dimming as it all powered up. It was so complicated if my other half wanted the radio on she resorted to a small portable!


My other half has been in turns despairing, co-operative, a great pair of ears, and uninterested (read bored by it all!). Even having uncomplimentary nicknames for some of the units I had. I have tried the latest flavours (Sugden A21SE) old masters (Audionote Es) and all points in between.


How was I cured? Well, I got fed up with all the boxes first. I got fed up with the power up and power down routines of power supplies with everything and bought a Luxman integrated amp with tone controls (yes I know..!! but once over the shock they are actually quite useful, a bit like having the ability to change cables at will) with it’s dirty great big 1970’s power meters, gold brushed aluminium, and an internal phono stage.


I bought decent and complementary wiring that doesn’t intrude in any obvious fashion, LFD interconnects and speaker cables. I used these throughout, including the internal 'speaker wiring.


I got my trusty old Impulse H6’s crossovers redesigned by a local speaker designer using his equipment and knowledge. I run a simple suspension-less turntable (Kuzma Stabi/Stogi) and run a venerable Marantz CD94 Mark 2 with a spare Mark 1 in the loft for breakdowns.


My dealer recommended I try a Benz Micro Glider as a good match for the Kuzma when it was new. A good match? It sounds ideally matched to me!

Now this hasn’t happened overnight, but by some careful planning and some lucky accidents/discoveries/good dealer recommendations. I honestly think I am cured.

I occasionally wonder if I would like to replace an item but every piece of the jigsaw complements each other. I really wouldn’t want to start again.

It is therefore possible to have the best for your own ears, with patience, an open mind/ear – and not all for a king’s ransom.


However, I still buy the mag because it is a hobby after all. I buy the motorcycle mags but have had the same bike for 12 years. Once something is right and needs no further work you will know. A bit like painting a picture, the trick is knowing when it is finished and not to keep tinkering or you will spoil it.

regards

Greg Gilding

 

Hi Greg - I do actually think that hi-fi requires a lot more thought than some give it. Let's face it – it's a tool to listen to music, and if you're up for spending serious sums, then you obviously want to get close to your music. But – and here's the thing – 'getting closer' isn't simply about getting the best sound. Actually, you want an accessible, useable package that you can just enjoy without endless fiddling. That's why CD took over from LP, because for most it was the best compromise between sonics and ease of use.

 

I'm reminded of my earlier 'motorcycle years', where I pursued a bike upgrade path following all the latest and greatest bikes, getting ever bigger, heavier and faster ones. In the end, I think I realised that just about the most fun I ever had on two wheels was from an old 1980 Suzuki TS185ER trials bike. It was a wild, rough as hell two-stroke 'rat bike' (as we used to call them) which I took here, there and everywhere; routinely fell off it in the snow and unceremoniously dumped my little brother off the back of it once, whilst pulling a ridiculous wheelie!

 

My point is simple; fun comes from something that's both good at what it does and really accessible too. Living with an Arcam Solo Mini last year reminded me of this. Not the best hi-fi in the world but just great for when you wanted some decent sounds when the only alternative would have been the telly or transistor radio. DP

 

CARTRIDGE CONFUSION!

You kindly printed my letter in the January 2010 concerning a suitable cartridge for my system which now comprises a Townshend Rock Reference turntable with Excalibur 2 tonearm (Van den Hul silver wired), Reson Mica cartridge, Gryphon Callisto 2100 amplifier (replacing the Sugden A21a) and Castle Conway speakers.


My Trichord Diablo phono stage has been sold and I intend to take your advice and purchase an Icon Audio PS1.2 phono stage. The Reson Mica and the silver wired tonearm are the problem and Noel suggested a Shure M97XE (possibly too warm and I wanted to try a moving coil) and David an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze (too expensive) or an AT OC9 MLII.

I was thinking along the lines of the AT OC9 MLII, but in the September 2010 issue, in response to another letter, it was suggested that the AT OC9 MLIII (the replacement for the II) is fairly bright and not a good match for silver wired tone arms.


I’m confused! I just want a moving coil that is detailed, dynamic but not overly bright or fatiguing. Any other suggestions for a moving coil up to £500? Would it be worthwhile getting the Excalibur 2 rewired by Audio Origami with say Cardas OFC copper litz?

Trevor Scull

Surrey


Yes, I have another suggestion that I am sure is right for you: get an Ortofon Rondo Bronze moving coil cartridge as reviewed in our May 2010 issue. It is smooth and peak free, performs well all round and is suitably priced too. Sorry about the confusion. I hope this resolves the issue for you. NK

 

I would say that, if you're going to use a smooth sounding Icon Audio PS1.2 tube phono stage, you're not going to run into brightness problems with an OC9. It's not the brightest of Audio Technica's range by far, and has fine tracking. My feeling is that the Rondo Bronze would be softer and smoother still, but you may enjoy the Audio Technica's punch and pace if you're a rock or pop fan. DP


GOING LOW

Hope you or one of your team can help with my dilemma. I’ve been putting some home systems together over several years. I’ve ended up with four (five including the kitchen one) systems. I’ve got so many systems, partly as I like experimenting – though that inclination has quietened down considerably with current economics – and because, as I developed a fondness for some pieces of equipment, it became difficult to part with them.


I know its anathema to you, but I buy second hand without audition as a way of experiencing hi-fi equipment that would be too costly new. In discovering hi-fi, I’ve been through a number of speakers in the budget to mid price range, including Acoustic Energy Evo1s and 3s, Wharfedale Diamond 8.1 / 8.3, Quad 11l and 12l, Monitor Audio R852md, Triangle Titus Ex, Linn Keilidh, Monitor Audio Radius 1s, Mission m71i, Leema Xeros, Monitor Audio PMC 703s. Those I regularly use are the Leema Xeros, the Monitor Audio PMC 703s in my lounge, Monitor Audio Radius 1 in kitchen and Castle Isos in my study. I like all of them, for different reasons, but I haven’t hit the jackpot with any of them and I’m a bit lost.

My computer set up is the one I most often use. Asrock Ion 330 computer (neat little black block design and external power supply), Foobar player (experimenting with cplay though), Emu 0404 USB DAC (or sometimes Benchmark DAC1 which is currently in lounge system), Winsome Labs mouse amp (tripath and 40watts or so), then Leema Xeros. The sound is detailed, very clear, refined, lots of positives, but it is bright and could do with more body.

 

q-acoustics-2050

 

A fine floorstander at a low price, the Q Acoustics 2050 (see August 2010 issue).

 


When I use my Sugden A21a amplifier, this goes very well with the Xeros, but as I leave the amp on constantly, I cannot in all conscience leave the Sugden burning Class A electricity when I may be watching a video as much as listening to music. Cables are reasonable enough, including DNM reson biwire.


Fiddler that I am, I put my cheap Mission m71i 'speakers on, just to see how they sounded. They serve as rear speakers in a home cinema setup normally. I was aware of less detail, less precision, and a wallowy bass, at times, but what I heard was musical, more organic, warm, smooth and highly enjoyable. Less hi-fi, in certain respects, but more musical. I listened to the setup for a week and really enjoyed it.


Today, I’ve reconnected the Xeros and once again, I can listen into the recording, hear a more precise soundstage, but the sound has gone from emotionally engaging to intellectually stimulating. It has lost something important. The hi-fi fanatic in me tells me to stick with Xeros as they are clearly ‘better’ speakers than the Missions. Another part of me wants to put the Missions back. And the rational/emotional balance tells me that I haven’t struck gold with my choice of speakers yet.


Though I’ve worked my way through bright-ish sounding speakers, I think I’ve been in denial of how important the lower registers are for me. I don’t (I think) yearn for visceral bass, but I want a full sound with decent bass, a liquid midrange and a sophisticated but not overly conspicuous top end. If I start selling some things, I could be looking at spending up to £700 or so for a second hand purchase. As an aspirational aside, though not at all within my budget, I’ve lusted after the Mordaunt Short Performa 6 since I first saw them and read the glowing reviews. As a future wish list item, would this deliver what I’m looking for?


To give further perspective, my main system comprises: Nakamichi MB10 CD player, Benchmark dac1, Musical Fidelity Pre v3 and P200, Musical Fidelity x 10 v3 buffer, modded Technics SLl200 turntable and Monitor Audio PMC 703. The speakers sound very good, big soundstage, dynamic, decent bass, detailed top end, but I find the system difficult to sit with for any length of time. I want to feel like I’m bathing in the sound of the music, but still it veers towards the forensic approach.


I did try the Xeros in this setup and didn’t like the loss of the lower ranges and the pronounced treble delivery. I’ve still got AE Evo 3s which front my home cinema setup. These sound very nice with my Sugden a21a for example, but they don’t reveal enough musical information. I really like the easy way the Castle Isos make music, but they sound too small for a larger room. What speakers would deliver immersive but reasonably accurate sound for my purposes?

Thanks for your help

Chris Miller

London

 

kef-q100

 

...or try one of KEF's new Q Series loudspeakers.

 

 

Hmmm... You are asking a lot, in a market where loudspeakers are usually balanced to sound bright. My first reaction is to suggest you try a pair of Q Acoustics 2050s. They are civilised, well engineered and have the right balance, and are in your price range. As you like Monitor Audios you could well try and get a pair of Gold Reference 20s or perhaps 60s. I found them fast but easy to listen to and very civilised. KEF are bringing out new Q Series loudspeakers that promise to be interesting and Epos will release a new £750 floorstander soon that, they say, will be fundamentally accurate. Accuracy at low price, and especially with quality treble, is not easy to find. NK

 

HIGH OR LOW

My system consists of Atlas cabling, Proac 1sc loudspeakers, Bryston B100 amplifier with integral Moving Magnet phono stage, Pathos logos, Bryston bcd-1 and Roksan Xerxes 20+ turntable with a Funk Firm fxr11 arm and Goldring 1042 cartridge.

 

I am really happy with the CD playback of the system and am lucky to have the option of the valvey warmth of the Pathos or the more analytical Bryston at my decision as the CD player has balanced and RCA outputs, both amps are connected and can be selected very easily.

 

The advice I am now after is on the next analogue upgrade path. I have been advised on one front the phono stage in the Bryston is of high quality and a Sumiko Blackbird or Dynavector 10x5 would deliver some real sonic gains by going high output MC.  On the other hand I may as well take the jump into low output MC.

 

I find it really hard to get any advice in northern England and anywhere locally who can demo different phono stages and cartridges together. A new phono stage would allow me to use both amps in the same way as I can with the CD player. Could you tell me if the jump is worth it?

 

lyra-titan-i-cartridge

 

Lyra Titan i moving coil cartridge, one of the best MCs available says David.

 

If I go low output MC I would be looking at a Lyra Delos/Titan cartridge (as I have been told they are very good and deliver a real feel of what’s on the vinyl with little colouration) and a phono stage around £1000-£1500 tops and currently being suggested are the Whest .20 or the Astin Trew. Would these be good options? (the Astin Trew allowing both amps to be used via RCA/XLR in the same way as the CD player is an attractive proposition),

 

Should I consider any other stage at this price point? I’m really looking for something completely transparent, allowing the cartridge and final amplification to give the sonic characteristics? I read your recommendations on the Icon Audio but worry this will be too coloured?

Thank you for your help. I find your magazine very useful for people getting into analogue playback.

Steven Summerscales

Hull

 

I always advise the low output Moving Coil route, because fewer coil turns are used and this improves sound quality and tracking. High output MCs are little more than an awkward way to build an MM. You just put lots of turns onto the cantilever, instead of onto stationary generator coils as in an MM.

 

The Lyra Titan i is quite a cool operator and very refined. Expect an extremely lucid if slightly cold sound. It is surgically precise and incisively fast and would go well with valves or a Whest phono stage. NK

 

I would suggest the combination of the ANT Audio Kora 3T Ltd. phono stage and the Lyra Titan i cartridge; this I ran in my Marantz TT-1000 turntable last year (along with an Origin Live Enterprise tonearm) and it produced one of the most breathtaking sounds I've ever heard in my life, anywhere! Substituting the Titan i for another similarly priced cartridge produced a noticeable step down in sound quality, leaving me to conclude that the Lyra is one of the very best Moving Coils ever made, no less. It is amazingly clean, delicate, neutral and forensic yet blisteringly fast and musical; true seat of the pants stuff!

The ANT phono stage is a great mix of the forensic solid-state Whest sound and the sumptuous Icon Audio flavour; it's sort of 'neutral but warm', if that's possible, and delightfully musical too. It sounds like you've got some fun coming... DP


CABLE CURSE

I very much enjoy reading Hi-Fi World, which is attractively presented and, for the most part, intelligently written. However, I have become increasingly concerned that some of your reviews, particularly with regard to passive devices such as interconnecting cables, are written in a manner that severely compromises the integrity and reliability of your journal. In the past I’ve simply regarded these as a source of amusement and have let them pass by, but on reading your review of the Furutech Alpha PS-950 mains connector (October 2010, p. 87) I thought it was about time that something should be said.


Surely, you know as well as I do that a mains connector, no matter how elaborately conceived and constructed, can make absolutely no difference to the quality of the sound emanating from an audio system. Is it not apparent to your readers that behind the wall socket, into which this connector is plugged, lies maybe ten or twenty metres of a tatty piece of flat twin plus earth, and that this ridiculously expensive connector forms only a tiny fraction of the total domestic mains distribution network ?


What concerns me is that to suggest that the cable enhances definition, smoothness, openness and speed (whatever these words actually mean) makes a mockery of the entire magazine and, sadly, makes the reviewer look like a fool.

 

Then, and rather more significantly, the question arises as to how seriously the reader should take your reviews of more substantial pieces of equipment. I appreciate that this places you in a difficult position with your advertisers, but could you not be a little more honest with your readership, and in this way gain their respect and credibility? (phrases like more money than sense and laughing all the way to the bank come to mind, but would be discretionary.)


My comments might equally well apply to other interconnects. The sole desirable quality of a loudspeaker lead is that it has low resistance to increase the damping factor. Nothing else really matters. In fact the best loudspeakers leads can be made from a few lengths of insulated copper flex-weave of the type made for transmitting antennas and costing around £2 per metre. And for phono interconnects, a length of 100U satellite coax soldered between a couple of Maplins best phono plugs will outperform anything on the market for a cost of around £8, with negligible capacitance, 100 percent screening and a frequency response extending to GHz. What more can one need?


And, while I’m here, just a final note about your amplifier tests. Virtually all amplifiers nowadays have a flat response over the audible range, and negligible distortion, so such tests tell you little about the real quality of the equipment. What are far more important, but appreciably more difficult to measure, are parameters like intermodulation distortion and, critically, transient response. In the early days, hi-fi magazines used to show square-wave tests, comparing input and output oscillograms at a variety of frequencies, which were far more revealing and not at all difficult implement. Could you not revive this approach?


I do hope, for the sake of the reputation and reliability of your journal, that you take these comments on board. Do publish and reply to this letter if you wish, but I suspect that you won’t.

yours sincerely

Ray Howgego

 

It is seemingly difficult to explain how a short mains connector can affect sound quality when it sits in such a long cable run, but their manufacturers claim they act as filters, removing higher frequency rubbish and I believe I am right in saying that this action has recently been demonstrated to the Advertising Standards Authority in a dispute that has arisen over cable claims. People buy these cables and are very happy with the improvements they hear. We publish these letters regularly.

 

The differences in sound quality between loudspeaker cables and interconnects is accepted by most people, and certainly by us, even if the exact mechanisms are difficult to explain. Sceptics usually say such listeners are deluded so I include one such letter for your perusal.

 

Basic lumped electrical parameters such as resistance and inductance appear to have little to do with it. Materials and dielectrics, as well as screens, appear to be exerting influence, but by what mechanisms we are all unsure. Personally, I suspect materials colouration affects all hi-fi and is an all-pervasive phenomenon, and current density is the stimulus. However, vibration and microphony, and radio pickup may also be influences.

 

Intermodulation distortion is a measure of non-linearity, as is harmonic distortion. They measure the same thing by different means. It’s just that intermodulation distortion comes in a wide variety of forms (second / third order sum and difference etc) and is awkward to measure (we are able to measure all forms). Harmonic distortion gives a single figure of goodness in this area, which is why it is commonly used.

 

Square waves comprise a sine wave at the repetition rate and an associated extended harmonic structure. The shape of the square wave is altered by amplitude and phase changes of its harmonics. A square wave will induce and show ringing of a resonant system but this can usually be seen in the amplitude response. I well recall the square wave tests you talk about and have used them myself, but they reveal no new information over and above what we already publish.

 

Times have moved on and our  instrumentation and understanding of underlying phenomena have also changed. I understand where you are coming from but there are plenty of highly skilled and experienced engineers working in audio who have heard cable differences and accept them.

 

We receive a regular trickle of complaining letters about the cable sound issue, asking or demanding we cease publishing ‘misleading’ information and, for the sake of openness we are happy to publish them. But I’m afraid to say that most people with any experience here accept sound quality differences do exist.  The following view, opposite to yours, is from reader Rudy Deblieck. NK

 

 

So, I get a bit angry with all these people who keep on telling us that the importance of cable quality is overrated, that burning in is nonsense and that it all comes down to ‘psycho-acoustics’. They claim that ‘one simply cannot measure these so called ‘audible differences’...’

 

For crying out loud: I am a solid state physicist myself and as a scientist I know very well how to conduct an experiment, how to compare setups and finally, how to be careful about not drawing conclusions from what has not been measured in the test.

 

The fact is that no measuring device actually measures what the ear-brain combination hears and we should be humble enough to admit that we are not able to do so properly.

Rudy Deblieck

 

 

donald-rumsfeld

 

U.S. Statesman Donald Rumsfeld had a few things to say about what we don't know, David observes!

 

We often get letters from people who 'know' what constitutes a good cable/interconnect and what does not, reducing everything to a question of resistance, capacitance and inductance. Whilst this undeniably plays a vital part, I feel they'd do well to have an understanding of philosophy too, at this point.

 

There are, to quote the unlikely source of Donald Rumsfeld, "known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns; there are things we do not know we don’t know".

 

The assertion that some engineers make is that we can know everything through present knowledge; their contention is that science is now 'finished' and what exists is measurable, and thus if it isn't measureable it doesn't exist.

 

This of course is a logical fallacy; in the 15th century people could not empirically 'prove' that the earth was a globe, yet that did not mean it was not. Likewise, until fairly recently we couldn't detect the existence of Pluto; that did not mean it didn't exist until recently! So I think a degree of perspective is required; good scientists know that there are known unknowns. One of the fascinating aspects of science is finding those unknowns and then finding ways to know them. If ever they need any suggestions, they need look know further than hi-fi, which is full of them!  DP

 

SEARCH FOR COLOUR

Can you suggest any current loudspeakers that give good portrayal of tonal colour, or  ‘good tone’ as it used to be called, and what are you looking to pay nowadays? There are plenty of sharp, detailed speakers out there which can play 100bpm, but their monochrome presentation leaves me cold.  Are paper cones still the way to go if you want a full, colourful sound?

I would be delighted to hear your views on this subject.

cheers,

Jaswant Gill

 

I see it as you see it Jas: too few loudspeakers reproduce a convincing range of tonal colour and the drive toward an enhanced sense of speed, clarity and detail, obtained by boosting treble does not help. Electrostatics from Martin Logan and Kingsound, as well as Quad are strong in this area. I also rather like Spendor’s ep38 polymer cones that have a damped sound lacking zing, found for example is the S8e we use as benchmark loudspeakers.

Pure paper cones are good in some areas but can have ragged upper treble when stiffened. These days manufacturers like Dali use pulp fibre cones that I’ve found surprisingly neutral in themselves and good communicators of tonal colour, but Dali unfortunately like raised treble too. Tannoy are a company that steadfastly refuse to produce a loudspeaker with raised treble and their fibre / polymer cones are pretty good at conveying instrumental colour.

Depressingly, both neutrality and the transmission of tonal colour are properties little considered in modern loudspeakers. NK

 

kingsound-prince-ii

 

Princesound Prince IIs, a full range electrostatic loudspeaker that is smooth and reveals tonal colours.

 

 

 

Hi Jaswant - aside from the Q Acoustics 2050 in the budget region, the most obviously tonally varied speaker I've heard recently is the MyAudio Design My Clapton Grand MM. It's expensive at £3,500 or so, but it has a great tonal palette, and this from paper drivers. The designer pays meticulous attention to passive componentry, wiring and materials technology, and you can hear it! DP

 

CADENZA QUERY

I have been reading your reviews of the various Ortofon Cadenza cartridges, Windfeld and A90, with great interest and in great detail (!). I find them very useful (some of the most comprehensive out there I feel). I find these reviews particularly useful in light of the fact that it is so difficult to find dealers that carry stock and are willing to A/B demo most of these cartridges.

 

ortofon-cadenza-black

 

Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge offers a very smooth sound. See April 2010 issue.

 

However, I wonder if you might be able to clarify something for me. I own a Michell Gyro (fully upgraded to near Orbe status), with Origin Live Silver MkI arm, Ortofon Kontrapunkt b cartridge (all purchased 2002) and Tom Evans Microgroove Plus (later version using newer Lithos design) phono stage. I use AVI lab series pre-power and AVI Brio loudspeakers. So it is well and truly solid-state all the way. I do find the Kontrapunkt b to be cool and emotion free (via solid state amps), as you suggest in one of your reviews. I am therefore looking to soften the sound with something easier on the ear, and I am obviously now looking to update my cartridge after 8 years of light to moderate use.


I am aware that the b (whilst something of a benchmark) is not quite state of the art. So I am looking for something better than a straight swap for the Cadenza Blue. From what you have written I feel as though I should also steer clear of the Bronze because of its treble ‘populist’ presentation. This means that I have been considering the Cadenza Black, Windfeld and A90. I have discounted the A90, largely for reasons of price, availability and it doing so little more than the Cadenza Black sonically (and sometimes less) for a lot more money.


Therefore I think it is between the Black and the Windfeld. What I can’t figure out from your review (no direct comparison is made) is which is ‘better’ generally speaking. From the frequency response graph I feel as though I should opt for the Cadenza Black. Do you think this is wise, for a solid state system? Above all, my tastes are a truthful hi-res. tonally neutral sound, with nothing added.


In case you were wondering about my arm, I intend to upgrade my Silver MkI to Mk3c when I change the cartridge.

I would really appreciate any advice you might be willing to give. Thanks a lot for your time.

best regards,

Chris Lloyd

 

We are talking about fine difference here and where Ortofon wish to go with their high end designs. The Cadenza Black is a later design than the Per Windfeld and Ortofon have honed it for a slightly darker delivery. It really was very mild mannered but you have to listen in to cartridges like this to appreciate what they are capable of and the Black was pretty damn impressive in its sound staging, detailing yet good dynamic punch that gives solid bass that’s tuneful. It’s a fantastic cartridge and more even handed than the Kontrapunkt b, but whilst you will appreciate its qualities MCs like this need an Icon Audio PS3 to do them full justice in my view. Then you’ll suddenly get a sound stage that opens right up, displaying cavernous depth. NK

 

DEALERS DO IT

I have just read Tim Jury’s letter in your November issue re the different conclusions arrived at in different magazines about whether one piece of kit is the best at that price point etc, etc...


I too read other reviews and found this, though it never troubled me as I am generally not in the market to buy. However, I think I found one reason this is so whilst reading blind tests by the public in What Hi Fi and Video. Their question usually is: do you like kit A over B or C. In this type of review, they are deciding which setup makes the test music sound the best. A reviewer will try for more objective assessments. This is particularly highlighted when you state that a piece of kit is ruthless about the quality of the source.

 

ayre_v-5xe

 

Ayre 5xe amplifier is fully balanced.

 

If you only have high quality recordings, no problem, but people will generally have bought music they enjoyed and not usually considered what studio/engineer recorded it and either not care, or just be disappointed. See where I am going with this? I think most people will see a few pieces of kit that get well reviewed, then decide which one they like hopefully after hearing it themselves. If there really was only one excellent bit of kit in each category, there would only be one hi-fi magazine. I personally, am glad it isn’t so. It’s one good reason I look forward each month to reading your mag.

keep up the good work.

Paul Clewlow.

 

Thanks Paul – your point illustrates something I always end up agonising over around October time – that of the Hi-Fi World Awards. It is so, so, so hard sometimes to come up with 'one' winner, and so arbitrary, and yet it must be done otherwise we descend into a world of seemingly complete subjectivity where we can't make up our mind about anything! I don't like doing it, I must admit, but just when I dwell on this thought then a product that's so obviously better in its category than any others comes along! Ultimately, the best hi-fi is the what you like most in your own system, in your own house, with your favourite music. DP

 

TRANSFORMER

I particularly enjoyed the November 2010 edition of H-Fi World, especially  its review of the Music First Audio Classic II preamp fitted with silver transformers. I own the Classic model fitted with larger copper transformers and can vouch for the improvement the upgrade brings. It’s a fantastic piece of equipment and I take great pleasure not just from its sound but also from its green credentials and bomb proof nature.


However, I have a hi-fi dilemma in that I am considering upgrading my current system and would appreciate your advice. I want to upgrade my power amp to one in the £3k - £5k price range but my head is spinning faster than the discs I play because of the complexity caused by connecting my sub. via its high level speaker binding post connections, to a power amp used in conjunction with the MF preamp. I would prefer to buy a power amp with properly balanced xlr inputs; I’ve put together a DIY lead that take the MF’s balanced xlr outputs to my Quad 909’s Quadlink balanced input and the sound is significantly better then the unbalanced connection.

 

mf-audio-passive-preamp

The MF Audio passive preamp with gain. Inside lies a step up transformer with isolating primary and secondary windings.

 

My system consists of the MF preamp, Quad 909 power amp, Sony xa5400es SACD/CD (sounds great with 2 channel SACD) , B&W 805s and a REL Storm 5 subwoofer.

The problem is as follows: most of the power amps in the specified price range are either monoblocks, fully balanced throughout or Class D type. These designs make it tricky to take a high level subwoofer connection of the type favoured by REL from the power amp speaker binding posts. REL have supplied me with a de-coupled lead that overcomes the danger of summing the outputs on monoblock amps, but I’ve no idea if the ground connection can be taken to the chassis of the preamp, given its passive design.


As for connecting power amps with fully balanced design such as the Ayre 5xe, how on earth is this possible without having to buy another sub?  There so many possibilities here, most of which seem likely to blow up the equipment. Normally a line-level signal fed from the preamp would solve the issue, but the MF preamp lacks a spare line-level output.

I have considered the valve route and am curious to try Icon Audio’s power amps. I’d appreciate your advice on running a sub from them. Any suggestions of power amps you have would be of interest, whether transistor or valve based. Other models I’ve considered are the Karan KAS 180 and the Ayre mentioned above.  I’ve not heard any of them, but they seem highly respected.


Another issue I have concerns matching power amp input sensitivity and impedance to the preamp.  What levels should I look at in a power amp fed from the MF?

Perhaps I’m exaggerating problems here but the proliferation of ‘exotic designs’ in power amps within the chosen price range does make things more complicated, not least of all when using a passive preamp.

Many thanks for your help.

Best regards

Paul Wizonski

 

Hi Paul. Most power amplifiers are unbalanced in themselves (internally) and just use balanced-to-unbalanced input buffer chips. Their negative loudspeaker terminal is usually connected to ground. Very few are truly balanced throughout, although bridged amplifiers by nature must not have either output terminal grounded and nor can most Class D amps.

 

You can connect the REL from the positive loudspeaker terminal to amplifier ground (i.e. the casework) and this should work, but in most cases using the negative terminal will be just the same. All amplifiers have protection circuits, by the way, and they will kick in if things are not right, providing you turn volume up slowly (i.e. do not draw too much current instantaneously).

 

So your fears are largely unfounded and nothing should blow up. Do of course take a close look at manufacturer’s warnings on what can and cannot be done with their amplifiers, before buying. Or e-mail them to ask whether the loudspeaker negative terminal can be grounded as this is a simple enough question to answer when a circuit diagram is available.

 

I am sorry to say I have not heard either of the power amplifiers you mention and both look very interesting. Fully balanced working in solid-state amplifiers does usually provide a great sound, very tidy and clean, but it is quite different to the presentation of a valve amplifier. I suggest you try and get a few demos. to see what you like, and don’t forget Quad II-eighties either.

 

Most power amps have 1V input sensitivity and 10k input impedance and this is fine for the MF preamp. NK


DECISIONS

I’m hoping you can help clear my head a bit. I’m looking for a new pair of 'speakers, floor standers or bookshelf (can’t even make that decision!). My room is 5m x 9m with the usual soft furnishings. The speakers would need to fit into a space about 2.5mtr apart firing down the room. Unfortunately they will be close to the side wall up to about 6” away from side and 12” from rear.


I’m looking to spend around £1000 but can go £1400ish. My kit (which I’m perfectly happy with – no plans to change) consists of Icon Audio Mk I Stereo 40, Meridian G07 CD, CA 640T and Project 5.1 rpm. Most of my listening is on the turntable and FM radio for back ground listening. Music is varied Rock, Blues, Classical, Prog, Acoustic and I want to get into Jazz (but that’s another letter!).


Having only got into valves about 8 months ago I’ve since clogged my head with so much ‘speaker research I shiver looking at any more and find my self beginning to hate speaker reviews! I know I should audition what I can but living in the frozen wastes of North East England my choices of suppliers is fairly limited. My plan is once I’ve got a shortlist of three or four to try to listen to them. But getting to the elusive three or four is proving to be very difficult. I’m basing my initial idea on something of at least 90dB sensitivity but the more I read the more I understand the ease of drive (cross over) is equally important?

 

mordaunt-short-mezzo-6

 

The Mordaunt Short Mezzo 6 offers a svelte sound and is worth hearing.

 


At the moment I’m using Mezzo 2s, which I quite like. I borrowed some ATC 10s a while ago on the understanding they were a whole step up (at least) from what I was using but to be honest I wasn’t impressed. They certainly pushed the sound into the room (it was like David Bowie was sitting next to me) but I felt as if they were ‘restrained’ somehow. I guess they need more than 40Watts to really drive them.


My short list at present is something by Living  Voice (quite hard to find any info on these apart from their web site, and I imagine quite hard to track down a pair I can listen to) and PMC TB2i.


Also, my first thoughts before I started to get in too deep were Dali Ikons 6s. Oh yeah – almost forgot Icon Audio also do speakers which I guess would fit the bill – can you get a sense of the state of mind I’m in!


Can you recommend any more I should add to this list or give some guide lines (am I being too optimistic aiming for 90dB?).

hoping you can help,

Graham.

 

Mordaunt Short Mezzo IIs (I presume you do not mean Goodmans Mezzo IIs from the 1960s!) have quite an easy going sound and are very civil. If that’s what you like – and why not – I would suggest you look further up their range, at the Mezzo 6 for example. ATC and PMC are altogether different by nature and may jar a little. Triangle have a new version of their fine Antal that would likely suit, and Epos are to introduce a new floorstander, the Epic 5, priced at £750, that they say will be accurate. I suspect that the presentation of your Mezzos will not be easily matched though. A Tannoy DC8 would certainly suit, but it is much more expensive. Modern floorstanders manage 90dB from one watt and it is a realistic target. NK

 

monitor-audio-bx5

Try a Monitor Audio BX5 says David.

 

Another good modern floorstander with an open balance and fine, 90dB sensitivity is the Monitor Audio BX5 (£500). It's a little lower than your budget but the rest could be spent on your front end at a later date – or even, perish the thought, music! DP

 

PILOT

In reference to your MF Audio’s passive preamp review in the Nov issue I use a tc electronic levelpilot preamp (see http://www.tcelectronic.com/levelpilot.asp). I just wonder if anybody has used one and what they think? I use it in lots of different systems and think its a great bit of kit, plus you can pick one up for about £50!

Ian Park.

Surrey

 

Hi Ian. Their website say this is a Bourns potentiometer, which is slightly different, because it does not provide gain (i.e. will not make the music louder). The idea of a ‘passive pot’ (potentiometer) is an old one and it works nicely when there is enough spare gain in the system, lets say between  a CD player (2V output) and a power amplifier (1V input absolute maximum). Nearly all CD players (and all other silver disc players) produce 2V or more, and nearly all power amps need 1V for full output so here a passive pot like the Creek OBH-22 which I like to use, works fine. The OBH-22 adds some twiddly bits by having switched inputs and remote control of volume, plus a mute function. That’s all a lot of people need.

 

The MF Audio is altogether different. It uses an audio step-up transformer and these things are more complex and more expensive than a potentiometer. The advantage is that it provides +6dB of gain (x2), as well as attenuation, just enough to put between many external phono stages, tuners (etc) and a power amplifier. It also breaks ground loops, providing complete isolation of source from power amplifier. There’s much praise for the MF Audio; it’s a great product. NK

 

RUNAWAY

We have been experiencing the new Icon Audio MB845s for just over a week. This is an amplifier that does everything. It can make you tingle with Wagnerian delight, or cause tears to roll down your cheeks from nostalgia driven Simon and Garfunkel. Its magic hits everything right between the eyes and expresses the miracles that sound can imbue, inflict, and bestow upon the emotions. The hooligan that was the first MB845 has been sent to Eton, ran away and joined the S.B.S., and has come back transformed beyond our wildest imaginings.

 

icon-audio-mb845-mk2

 

Icon Audio MB845 MkII once belonged to the SBS!

 

Thank you Noel for putting a picture of it in H.F.W. and suggesting that a reader should get it. The feeling it gives me is like skippering an ocean-going yacht in a Force Eight, close hauled, crashing from wave to wave, hitting the crest of one and down into the trough, the bows hitting the bottom like a shotgun blast: the whole boat shudders and the sails regain the wind and we’re off again, the salt-stained magnificence of it all and the serene calm that follows as the dawn comes up.


I know if that Keywood fella says something is good it is, no question, and this amp turns the page on all others. Owning the Icon audio MB845 Mark 2 is another thing you’ve got to do before you die!

thanks again

James Gould (toned down by Cath Gould!)


Well, thanks for that James. It is a bit special isn’t it? I’m glad it hits you the way it hit me. Not many amplifiers sound like the MB845 MkII and David Shaw has done a great job. He’s got the sort of dedication and determination it takes to get a valve amp right – and what a result. NK

 

TIGHTER BASS

I am desperately trying to get my hi-fi system to deliver a full and tighter bass. At present it seems full but can seem a bit boomy at times.

My system consists of a Marantz 63 KI CD player, custom built turntable with Rega RB250 arm and Denon DL304 cartridge, a Separo p88i tube amp. (fantastic piece of kit and don't know why it hasn't been tested by a magazine before) and your very own KLS9 loudspeakers.

 

The amp has no phono stage so I'm running the turntable through my Audio Analogue Puccini se on board MC stage. Mains cable (Russ Andrews Classics) interconnects (Russ Andrews Crystal) loudspeaker cable is Russ Andrews 8vs. By the way, before I had the Separo amp I was running everything through the Audio Analogue Puccini and the boomy bass was present then.


My room size is 5m x 5m with 2.4m ceiling height and all kit is spiked on to a concrete floor. Have I heard somewhere before that adding a sub can tune the speakers?

I'm sorry to throw all this info at you and hope you can help.

With best regards

Matt

 

5m-room

 

A square room resonates strongly, giving boomy bass. This is a Cara wave tracing analysis that illustrates Matt's problem. High pressure points lie at the walls.

 

 

 

Hi Matt. The main problem is a square room that will boom strongly at 35Hz. Look at the first mode of your room as depicted by Cara; there are high pressure zones at the loudspeaker end and listener end. There isn’t so much you can do about this, other than move house! KLS9 is a large loudspeaker with powerful bass so it will provoke your room’s main resonant mode by putting a lot of energy into it.

 

A quick and dirty solution is to put a foam bung in the port; some even use an old sock. This will lower bass output and lessen the boom. Keep the loudspeakers as far away from walls as possible too.

 

Another aid is absorptive settees with deep internal foam cushions. I have a three seater, two seater and armchair stuffed into one room to damp down bass and they do it very effectively.

 

Alternatively, you can try corner absorbers from somewhere like Studiospares (www.studiospares.com) where they have foam corner cubes for £12.90, as well as more expensive bass traps. Stacks of cubes in two corners may work; in my experience you need sheer volume to absorb bass energy and this may well add up to almost £100 or so (6 cubes) as a treatment. I have not tried it, I must say, and can only speculate that it should help.

 

I rather doubt you’ll cure the problem altogether, but you may well be able to lessen its subjective impact. I do hope this helps. NK


REPLACEMENT

Simple question. I am looking to replace valves (12AX7, 12AU7, 12FQ7 and 5AR4). I am looking for the best of these types. Can you point me toward what manufacturers I should consider as there seems to be quite a few in the marketplace?


I am getting a “whispery” sound, almost like a minor swirling wind coming through on one of my channels. When I swapped the preamp outputs, the noise changed to the opposite channel, implying that the preamp is at fault, and I would like to try new valves. I am not sure what valve it is likely to be, and I don’t have a circuit diagram. The servicer is in the USA and the preamp is obsolete. It is, however, astonishingly good to listen to and the most musical piece of kit I have had so far. It left my old Audio Research stuff with a very sorry look on its face.


I can change these things out myself as I have Electronic / Electrical skills, but alas, my education started too late to grasp valve circuit topology. Your advice would be greatly appreciated and keep up the good work with the magazine. Having letters published in the magazine put a smile on my face, but, my missus thought I was just weird. She does however, like listening to the music.

Ewan Scott,

Aberdeen.

icon-audio-la4-mk2

Icon Audio LA4 MkII preamp uses early 6SN7 triodes for a svelte delivery.

 

Heavens Ewan, you ask difficult questions! I cannot honestly suggest the best tubes from personal experience. As you must be aware some of those tubes like 12FQ7 and 5AR4 rectifier likely won’t come in premium versions. For the 12AX7 (ECC83) and 12AU7 (ECC82) the best are New Old Stock (NOS) from Philips and Mullard but these are now very expensive. You can pay £60 or more per item.

 

You obviously have an ‘interesting’ mystery preamp. Audio Research inhabit a unusual world of their own with tubes and ‘are what they are’.

I suggest you listen to an Icon Audio LA4 MkII preamp sometime, with its 6SN7 triodes. It is very easy going and ultra smooth and is likely what will appeal to you as a valve head, NK

 

DELOS A DELIGHT?

Due to the fact I know your Editor David Price is a bit partial to Lyra pickup cartridges, then surely you have had your mits on one by now I would imagine? When are we likely to read your thoughts in regards to the Delos. I’ve never owned a Lyra but on what bits of info I’ve gleaned so far in regards to the Delos, let’s say I’m tempted to try one. But..!

Sorry if this is the nth time that you have been asked this question.

kind regards

Keith Burford

 

Hi Keith - amazingly no, I haven't tried it yet. Let me assure you that I'm working to change this state of affairs ASAP! Still, I'd hazard a guess it will be superb. But then again, I am, as you state, a Lyra-phile! DP

 

IN A SPIN

I’ve just retired, converted my garage into a dedicated listening room and have rediscovered the wonders of listening to vinyl LPs.

It all began when my architectural designer John Chapman came to measure up the garage and spotted my old Luxman turntable waiting to be shipped off to the local tip. Wiping a tear from his eye he ventured to ask about my interest in hi fi.


He, being a long standing audiophile enthusiast, was quick to point out that vinyl is not dead and is much more satisfying to listen to than CD. I was somewhat sceptical at this stage so I took him into the lounge and gave him a demonstration of my system. I thought my Rega Apollo, Rega Cursa and two Rega Maia power amps bi-amped into my PMC FB1 + speakers would sort him out.


However, he was only moderately impressed and suggested I have a listen to his Garrard 401, EAR Phono amp, Croft amp and Spendor BC1 speakers, which I duly did and was gobsmacked by what I heard.


By coincidence a short while later an old friend mentioned he had a 70’s Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference turntable sleeping quietly under his bed – and would I like it? A good retirement project I thought, so with advice from John and Michael Gammon at Transcriptors I set about restoring it. It was also at this time I stumbled across the Letters page in your August 2009 edition where another reader had been on a similar path. I duly took your advice and fitted the Goldring 1042 cartridge to the now rewired SME 3002S2 arm.  I installed the turntable on a purpose made shelf screwed tightly to a granite block wall and was duly rewarded by a lovely well balanced sweet sound.

So what’s the problem?  Well, if a 70’s turntable can achieve this what more can I do to increase my listening pleasure?


Though the Rega equipment has served me well I am aware that it sounds a little cold and lacks the emotional engagement I experienced listening to John’s system.

I listen increasingly to Classical LPs (usually bought locally from charity shops) but also some jazz and rock. I would like to achieve the same wide soundstage I get from the Apollo but with a richer, more subtle and articulate sound that is  sympathetic to the likes of Sibelius, Mahler and Elgar.


I’m in two minds, hence my letter.Should I look to improve the phono stage (currently I’m plugged into the MM of the Cursa) and perhaps change the Transcriptor motor to a DC type etc. (I see Russ Andrews has an MM phono amp based on the Rega design).


Or should I take the leap and go for valve amplification (valve equipment is still a big mystery to me) with perhaps speakers that are better suited to the size of my room which is 2.85m by 4.6m and 2.9m ceiling height (a l to w ratio of 1.61, the golden mean ratio also mentioned in your letters pages of September 2004).

I’m about to start auditioning some options and so would very much appreciate your guidance on A, some system upgrade possibilities and B, how I could migrate to a comparable valve based system with a budget of around £5-6K.


Meanwhile, I’m in the process of making some sound traps (Rockwell Slab framed in 4” by 1” and covered in white linen) to help further tune the room acoustic.

Keep me busy in my retirement! All suggestions welcome.

Yours sincerely

Alan Coddington

Falmouth

Cornwall

 

quad-ii-forty

Quad II-forty valve power amplifier is a good base for a valve system.

 

Hi Alan. If you liked a Croft / Spendor presentation then I suggest you go down the valve route. That is a fairly classic combination and you can, with valves, come up with variants on it to suit your taste. For example, Quad II-forties with KT88s would be suitable for your room and they give a clean, brisk, modern presentation. Quad II-eighties add more muscle and are fine amplifiers. For a gentler sound try an Icon Audio Stereo 300. Just bear in mind replacement 300Bs are expensive. Then try listening to modern Spendor loudspeakers fitted with their ep38 polymer cone. In a room of limited size you may need a stand mount loudspeaker to avoid bass boom. This will, I believe, get you on the road to a system that works well with classical music and also has more life and soul than what you are used to. NK

 

spendor-s8e

The transparent  ep38 polymer cone of a Spendor gives a smooth midband suited to classical music.


MINI PROBLEM

Having read your replies to Leigh Penny’s questions in the past two issues, I really feel you should take a long, hard look at yourselves when it comes to computer audio. You either embrace it or you don’t. People write to you for advice because of your knowledge and expertise. And when it comes to most matters hi-fi, you display this admirably. So if you choose to give advice relating to computer audio, you owe it to your readers and to yourselves to research your answers more thoroughly or simply admit that you don’t know.

Bob Hurst had it about right (I loved his “charmingly misinformed”) but having printed his letter you then carry on regardless with your (Noel’s) second reply.


Some comments here.  You seem surprised that your Mac would only output 44.1 or 48kHz via USB to a “96kHz capable” Cambridge Audio DacMagic. Well actually it isn’t. This device (as are many others) is limited to 48k via USB. In your defence Cambridge Audio don’t exactly shout about this.


I also have a suspicion about your jitter analysis. You write that jitter from your Mini was fine at 44.1 yet not so good at 48kHz. But you don’t say what files you were playing. My suspicion is that you were playing 44.1kHz files. Played back at their native resolution – no problem. But to play back at 48k, OSX would resample them real time. This is a BAD THING. And would explain your results (had you been able to measure 96k more badness would have resulted). Which brings us neatly back to Leigh Penny’s (LP from now on) question regarding playback of files having different sample rates.


Here you write that output rate is set in ‘Audio MIDI Setup’ and that once set “you do not have to change it. All files are converted to this rate.” Whilst technically true this is appalling advice (see BAD THING above). Here in particular you should hang your head in shame.


Fortunately there is a solution. LP doesn’t offer any information as to what software he’s using for playback but with a Mac, iTunes is a fair bet. Until quite recently this would have been a delicious irony; the slickest of user interfaces coupled with the (allegedly – don’t sue me!) worst sound quality. The solution is software available from either Pure Music or Amarra (Google them). They both do similar things. They interface with iTunes, taking over playback duties with a reported increase in sound quality whilst retaining iTunes’ functionality etc. (I would like to make it clear, I use neither Macs nor iTunes so cannot confirm the sound quality issues but the weight of evidence from users is pretty overwhelming). My suggestion would be for Pure Music. It’s significantly cheaper ($129 vs $695 for Amarra) and also available as a trial download, free for 15 days. Can’t really lose.


There is also a second very worthwhile benefit; automatic sample rate switching. So your CD rips will play back at 44.1kHz and any hirez downloads or rips will be played at their native resolution up to 192kHz (hardware permitting) without having to change any settings.


Back to LP. All you need now is a DAC. And I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with Noel again.  How best to get your digits out of your Mac seems a fair place to start. Cat, skin, ways, many! Without getting too involved, and especially if you will only be connecting your Mac to the DAC, then asynchronous USB would be my choice (not to be confused with asynchronous upsampling). I hear what Noel says regarding isolation from the noisy computer environment. Valid but now addressed by several non-optical options and only one of many issues.


An aside: Noel alludes to Naim Audio’s website ref their own DAC. They don’t like USB connection to a computer. I have no problem with Naim – they’re a wonderful company. But they would say that wouldn’t they? Watch them change their minds once they have their own implementation. Contrast with dCS for example, who use asynchronous USB; and they know a thing or two about digital.


For £330 or so the HRT StreamerII+ would seem to represent a fine mix of sound quality with value for money (and a 5 globe review from Patrick Cleasby in the August issue). It also claims a “completely isolated path between the computer and audio system” although the details here are somewhat vague.

I would suggest that for now there would be little to gain spending more until you reach the Ayre QB-9 at about £2k. USB only (asynch of course) the Ayre isolates from the computer using opto-couplers and also provides both balanced and single-ended out. I’m surprised Noel doesn’t already have one!

Both these machines are currently limited to 96kHz but 192k will follow soon. The Ayre will almost certainly be upgradeable while HRT are supposedly bringing out a 192k version in the near future if this is important to you.


If other inputs are required then the new Arcam rDac might be worth a look (£299ish). Again it has asynchronous USB input (here licensed from dCS) as well as conventional optical and electrical S/PDIF inputs for plugging in set top boxes and the like.


Finally (to LP again) if you were to buy the HRT, with the money saved from your £1,300 budget you could further improve sound quality by replacing the Mini’s hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive). It doesn’t need massive capacity as your music files would best be stored on an external drive, preferably network attached (ethernet, not USB) and away from the system or even in another room. Isolate the computer from the mains with a power conditioner/filter, get a decent quality USB lead and buy an iPad.

Okay the iPad won’t make any difference to the sound but what a controller it would make.

Andy Holland,

Manchester


mac-mini-final

The Mac Mini computer is not purpose designed for audio.

 

Thanks for all the info Andy – and your opinions. It is very interesting, if very much in the assertive computer audio / internet tradition based on internet folklore.

That USB outputs 48kHz maximum into a Cambridge DacMagic warns that what USB outputs is determined by what is connected, unlike S/PDIF. I should have made this clearer, but it gets very long winded if every option is catalogued and explained.

 

The Rohde & Schwarz generator output a 48kHz test signal to the Mac Mini direct and this was clearly stated in our reply; it was not upsampled from a 44.1kHz file as you have surmised. Your subsequent arguments rest on the assumption that the Mac will degrade the signal if asked to sample rate convert. Sample rate conversion is a mathematical process based on an algorithm. It does not necessarily cause degradation, unless the algorithm is a poor or compromised one. Internet folk lore might think otherwise but in real life these situations are never so black-and-white; it comes down to quality of implementation.

 

The most likely source of jitter above 44.1 sample rate lies in a clock multiplier; these can be very crude. The Mac Mini likely runs a 44.1 clock.

Noise isolation by optical S/PDIF is a little confusingly explained in the terminology generally used. Noise in this case means earth currents. Non optical options will only provide earth current isolation through the use of transformers. Internal computer noise is entirely different in nature, comprising radio frequency hash, usually eliminated by low pass filtering.

 

What Naim think cannot be categorically rubbished because you or others ‘think’ differently. Have you seen the variety and sophistication of their internet products? At Hi-Fi World we listen carefully to what manufacturers say and try to make sense of their views in the broader scheme of things. They have the knowledge, experience, design skills and test equipment to understand today's digital technologies.

 

Sound quality will be improved by an SSD? Er, not necessarily. This again is another piece of internet folk lore. Explained to me the other day by a digital engineer, modern hard drives – the ones that spin round and round – might seem crude but their signal processing is sufficiently sophisticated to produce a clean and stable signal.

Is an SSD automatically better? That depends upon how well the data is clocked out. Also, SSDs do not have an infinite life span, their cells degrade. Catastrophic failure, hard drive style, is unlikely. But SSDs are not automatically an answer to a maiden’s prayer. What the ‘net thinks and what is an engineering reality are two different things.

Trying to maintain a stable, rf hash and jitter free signal down a long signal chain, especially within products like the MacMini not purposed for audio, is never going to be easy. But supposition and folk lore provide no enlightenment. NK

 

Hjalmar Nilsson replies on behalf of Naim:

 

Andy, some interesting ideas and theories, but they are theories, not fact.  We have been researching digital audio for many years and hard disk replay for enough time to realise that getting good sound from a computer or hard disk playback is relatively easy, but getting great sound quality is really difficult.

 

We have some problems with USB, yes, but maybe not the ones you think. Isolation is not easy, especially at extremely high frequencies.

 

Secondly USB playback is in its infancy and we have already seen significant steps forward in the past couple of years.  We see it as far more sensible for a Naim customer who wishes to use USB to buy a USB to S/PDIF ‘adapter’ to feed a Naim DAC and to be able to easily change this as time moves on. This is better than having a DAC that could be out of date quickly. We can update the DAC’s firmware and code but that may not be enough if we included USB.

 

We have also got some very good results with Firewire to S/PDIF and here again things are changing quickly.

Optical isn’t changing nearly so fast and it is a simple, easy connection method that provides galvanic isolation, so we included it.  We do have some concerns about the ultimate sound quality available with an optical connection. The speed limitations of the interfaces is limited and their current draw isn’t ideal.

 

We class the Mac and a DAC (using optical) as it became known, using any DAC, including our own, as a good solution.

We still feel that the sound delivered by a Naim HDX connected with a coax BNC terminated cable to a Naim DAC takes a lot of beating. And we have the NDX network player due out very soon. The research and the development never stops.

 

In summary, don’t believe everything you read and listen carefully to everything.  Digital is not different from analogue in that every change is audible.  If it isn’t, question why. HJ

 


 

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