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April 2011 issue

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April 2011 issue
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World Mail    April 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.

 


bbc-radio3-hd

The BBC re-discover good sound quality. You can now find an HD audio link on the Radio 3 website, Philip Postings tells us.

 

A DAB OF SENSE

At last someone at the BBC has admitted that listening to Radio 3 on FM beats DAB and is almost as good as so-called 'HD radio'. In the Radio Times of 1-7 January this year, Doctor Digital, who answers readers’ 'tech questions', was asked: “I’ve heard Radio 3 can now be accessed in higher-quality audio. How do I tune in?”


The good Doctor answered: “To hear Radio 3 in ‘HD Sound’, you need to listen via the station’s website: bbc.co.uk/radio/hd-audio. The new stream uses a sampling rate of 320 kb/s, as opposed to the normal 128 kb/s, giving you a superior quality of sound to the one you’ll have heard if you’ve listened online before. The HD stream will also sound better than DAB radio – although if you listen to Radio 3 on FM, you won’t notice much benefit.”


He adds: “There’s also not much point in streaming the HD version of the station if you’re using your laptop, or standard, small computer speakers – try good-quality headphones to hear the extra clarity and detail in the sound, or wire your computer up to your stereo system.”


Let’s hope that, having let the digital cat out of the bag, Doctor Digital doesn’t find himself 'terminated' by the higher-ups at the Beeb.

Philip Postings

Essex

 

MARTIN LOGAN CLS

I heard the Martin Logan CLSs the first time in the late eighties and decided that I would buy a pair as soon as I could afford them, which happened about ten years later. Since then I have been the happy owner of the following system: Martin Logan CLSIIz, Copland CSA 28 amp, Copland CDA 266 CD, Musical Fidelity X-Plora tuner, and Rega P5 with Denon DL103 (uh-oh) cartridge and Rega Fono. I spin too little vinyl these days so main source is CD.


A couple of years back I added a pair of Velodyne DD-10 active subs that are connected directly to the speaker terminals of the amp. I found this a worthwhile addition but (at least) two subs are needed for decent integration with the electrostatics. I think this rather has to do with the radiation pattern of the subs versus the stats, than stereo information in the bass.


Cables are Van den Hul First (CD to amp), Kimber (amp to CLSs), and Transparent Audio Lab (amp to subs).

The music that I play on the system is pop and rock (from Rolling Stones to Sugababes to Grace Jones to Fun Loving Criminals to Trentemoller) and my children's music. The latter can, btw, be surprisingly well-recorded at times.


I like the system as it is, so the only real problem is that I’ve got money to burn.

 

martin-loganclsspeaker

 

How do I drive a Martin Logan CLS electrostatic loudspeaker, asks Jesper?

 

The CLSs are fantastic musical machines with killer transparency and almost 3D sound. But they are very challenging to feed. Quality watts are needed. They do, however, work surprisingly well with my modest hybrid Copland amp. The synergy between these two components is probably the main reason why the system sounds as good as it does. But clearly there are better amps out there. It is claimed that with the lights dimmed, Pinot Noir in the glass, and the ‘right’ tube amp driving the CLSs, God can be seen in the room. I have not yet seen Odin in our living room, so my question is: what would that right tube amp be? Icon Audio MB845? In that case, what would be a good matching preamp?

How about something as outrageous as the Kronzillas? Given my experience with Copland gear, I could try the CTA 405. Various Chinese tube amps have also been suggested to me. Both could be a step up but probably not the “ultimate”.

 

As for CD, I’ve tried the new Copland CDA 825 and was quite impressed by it. What would be your suggestion for a matching CD? And cables?

There is no real budget for these upgrades except for “close to within reason”. I would rather spend a bit more to get the right stuff than do stepwise upgrades.

 

yamaha-cds300

 

Get a Yamaha CDS300 with front mounted USB port to play FLAC files, says David.

 

Another question: I recently scooped up a Musical Fidelity A1, which, as you point out in your World Classic, is a great little amp of questionable reliability. I have heard that Musical Fidelity offers to sort it out, at a price of course, £400 to be precise. Do you have any experience with this service? I’ve heard the A1 with the CLSs and even though it struggled a bit it was pretty good. Would the A1 work with a set of older big Tannoys in a back-up system?

I would very much appreciate your advice on these questions.

Best regards,

Jesper Andreasen Daneland

 

Oh what a problem you have Jesper. Too much money to spend! That’s a slightly unusual place you are coming from but it does open up a lot of possibilities.

On the amplifier front you have to use a powerful, well designed all-valve amplifier with a loudspeaker as good as a CLS and here it is either a Quad II-eighty, designed by the redoubtable Tim de Paravicini, or an Icon Audio MB845 MkII designed by David Shaw. Both have oodles of power and fantastic sound quality. The latter is more muscular than the former, but KT88s have more sparkly treble than 845s and it really would be up to you to decide here. Don't be tempted to use any old valve amp; the ones I recommend have super quality output transformers.

 

For preamplification use a Music First Audio transformer preamp, like the Classic v2 we reviewed in the March 11 issue. It has one of the purest sounds I have ever heard and will suit electrostatics.

 

I have not heard the Kronzillas, only seen them and quaked! Do by all means listen if you can; they are unavailable in the UK.

 

A set of Tannoys as a backup huh? Big Tannoys are a world of their own and quite an extraordinary experience when run properly. There are prerequisites though. You need a big room, longer than 6 metres and more like 10 metres if possible. This is so the room is tuned below the loudspeakers, which are themselves tuned very low due to their huge cones and vast cabinets. Then you will experience ultimate bass quality, because Tannoys are very well engineered and deadly accurate too and they can move a room like no other loudspeaker I have heard. They need pathetically little power and although the A1 would suit in a simple sense, a Single Ended valve amplifier is really required – you will plainly hear the difference. Transistors are a big no-no with Tannoys and I have heard some horrible examples of this.

Then there is the issue of running in. If you demo a Tannoy make sure it is properly run in. Westminster Royal SEs take ten months to settle I am told, although I had no great problem with smaller Yorkminsters.

 

Under the right conditions Tannoys will bring a grin to your face like no other; they are deeply impressive in a way everyone appreciates. You just need a big house, a deaf wife and no neighbours. NK

 

In your question I can see my own personal plight; trying to find that perfect blend of tube sweetness and liquidity allied to real thump from solid-state, to drive a superb but power hungry pair of speakers which are notoriously revealing of their source! What's the answer then? Well, as Noel intimates, you're talking Quad II-eighties or Icon MB845 MkIIs. I'd go towards the latter here, thanks to their creamier, silkier sound; the Quads can sound a little more 'brusque', even if they are a bit punchier. The alternative we're highly familiar with is the Musical Fidelity AMS100 Class A stereo power amplifier. This has a knife-through-butter quality, able to incise through the mix to get down to the deepest detail. It's also very tight in the bass, and powerful too. Still, brilliant as it is, I can't help wanting to go back to valves; but then when I go back to valves, I miss the studied precision of the Musical Fidelity...

 

As for a CD source, there's so much choice for you. What's your budget? Meridian's G08.2 I auditioned last month is a great way to spend £2,500, with a liquid and musical sound. But then there's even more detail and dynamics and emotion available in Electrocompaniet's EMP-1/S (£4,600), which gives a truly captivating digital disc delivery, bristling with the sort of realism only normally heard from a top high end turntable. If it's £7.500 you want to spend, then plug the dCS Debussy into your Copland and be amazed by the scale, smoothness and dimensionality of one of the best DACs ever made. Sometimes having a decent budget creates more problems than it solves!

 

If you like your new (old) Musical Fidelity A1, and feel it works very well in the context of your system, then that's a great way in to making your mind up about your next amplifier; the A1 is like an AMS100 that's 'shrunk in the wash'! The Musical Fidelity factory service is very worthwhile doing on more expensive machinery, but it could represent a little too much for your humble A1. If you intend to keep it and enjoy it at its best, then it's a great thing to do - but it's a lot of money to spend on something if it's just going to go back in the loft! The A1 would work well with the Tannoys, as it's low powered but high quality; the Tannoys are very sensitive, which effectively removes the main drawback of the A1, allowing it to shine. DP

 

FLAC

Dear Hi-Fi World Boffins. Do you know of any devices that will play hi-fi quality audio from FLAC files stored on an external USB drive? All I can find so far are very expensive wireless networking multi-room systems such as Sonos, Opus, etc. or the Brennan JB7 which is very neat but will not play FLAC files. Nearly there are the very inexpensive little media players made by Western Digital and others that take a USB drive as input but then need to use a TV to browse the content. I don’t want to have to turn the TV on in order to play music, in much the same way as I’d rather not have to turn on my PC, hence the desire for a dedicated device. Any suggestions?

Regards,

Duncan Batey

 

You're right, Duncan, there are loads of devices that do this, but when the operative word is 'high quality' we seem to run into trouble. Basically, the cheapest solution is probably going to be buying one of the latest generation of budget CD players, such as the Yamaha CDS300 or Teac CD-P650 which have front mounted USB sockets - expect to pay around £200-ish for these. DP


DP PLAYER

I know from doing a quick Google that you had a Marantz CD63 KI - DP edition made. I think there was a run of 30 units?

I own a CD63 KI which I only recently purchased. My system is very much budget based, purchased 2nd hand, comprising CD63 KI, PM66 KI and Spendor S6e speakers and decent speaker cable/interconnects.


I’m seeking your opinion on how the 63 KI stacks up to modern budget CD players (say up to £250) and ones up to £500 (the original sale price of the KI).

I have carried out a few external mods to my CD player, Russ Andrews Yello power cable and Milty Foculpods feet, also I have just lined the inside of the case with 2mm bitumen sheets.

 

marantz-cd-63-ii-ki-sig

 

A great nineties CD player, the Marantz CD63 Ken Ishiwata Signature. It sounds good today.

 


It would seem that the used price of the KI is still very strong and the modifiers forums are also very busy concerning tweaking the KI.

Speaking to a few hi-fi friends (Cyrus owners), they all imply the KI is basically a “turd” these days and any modern CD player would knock it for six, irrespective of price. From my own experience I have back to backed my KI with an Onkyo SACD and a Cambridge Audio 640c V2 and I prefer the detail and delivery of the KI to both of these. It’s like a fine mist has been lifted and the sound stage enlarged when reverting back to the KI


Would you still entertain using a KI or has technology really moved on that much? Hoping you can give me your opinion!

Thanks,

Andy

 

Technology has improved but things aren't that much better. There's still a far bigger gulf between a good and a bad CD player than there is between a new and an old one. Whilst I'm not saying all old CD spinners are great, the Marantz CD63 Ken Ishiwata Signature is still a very strong performer. It has an innate musicality, a certain fluidity, that many other machines of today can't match. Hence its value is holding strong secondhand. I'd say it's one of the few 'cult' machines from the nineties, and it is worth having one now.  As ever though, make sure you get a good 'low mileage' one and if necessary send it to Arthur Bildzruk at Audio Technology Workshops (020 8746 2600) for a service; he's a classic Marantz specialist and does great work. The difference between a fully working, up-to-spec CD player and a dirty, tired and flaky one can be bigger than you might think. DP

 

HEAVY WEIGHT

As a regular reader of the magazine, I very much enjoy Noel’s valve amp. reviews, which are informing in their depth. However, I would be interested to know a couple of things omitted in his review of the Icon Audio 845s.

 

Firstly, what pre-amp did he use? Was it the Creek OBH-22 he likes, or something else? Would the Music First Audio pre-amp match the 845s?

Also, how were the amps sited; presumably, they don’t fit any commercial rack.

 

Secondly, although the weight of the amps was mentioned, nothing was said of the physical measurements. Surely, the foot- print is as important as the weight.

Regards,

Rob

 

music-first-magneticpreampl

 

The Music First Audio transformer step-up preamp. offers 0dB or 6dB gain with superb quality.

 

Hi Rob. I used a Creek OBH-22 and an Icon Audio LA4 MkII. The latter gives a bouncier, more dynamic sound but as I was reviewing just the power amplifiers I felt happiest using the Creek. Some listeners feel the passive Creek has a flat and dull sound though, and a Music First Audio would certainly be an improvement. We rate this transformer based ‘preamp’ (step up device) very highly.

 

The amps sat on a concrete floor, for stability and to avoid vibration. The measurements are 54cms deep, 24cms wide and 28cms high. We tend to assume people will get this sort of info from the ‘net these days, but perhaps not and we should publish it. We do carefully measure up loudspeakers after some complaint on this matter! NK

 

STOPPED LISTENING

I hope you can help me reach audio nirvana as unfortunately with the current system I have stopped listening to music for extended times.

 

My system comprises Wadia 170I i-pod dock, Musical Fidelity X-Ray V8 CD player and X-DAC V8 (not seen it reviewed by you, but had very positive comments in other reviews), Musical Fidelity X-Pre V3, TACT SDA 2175, Rega P3 with Origin Live Stubb and Goldring GX1022 (I just bought a Michell Tecnoarm, which is not installed yet). Two Van den Hul The First Ultimate interconnects, two QED Signature 75 Digital interconnects, various power cables including Russ Andrews Silencer block, Chord Odyssey 4 bi-wire loudspeaker cable, B&W 703 loudspeakers.

 

I have upgraded many times over in the last five years but do not seem to enhance the sound, more changing it (curse of eBay I guess). I have before always had Epos speakers from ES11 to M12, but bought the B&W since I wanted a more sensitive loudspeaker that was involving at low volumes and had a little bit more scale. This due to the fact that I loved the Sonic Impact T-amp. I played around with having two of them bi-amped which gave fantastic sound in the sense that it had a lot of detail, was still somewhat warm sounding and had very wide soundstage (I would call it complete channel separation which is what I love, e.g. a very wide stereo soundstage).

 

Unfortunately the T-amps had disadvantages with very low power etc so I changed to the Lyngdorf SDA 2175 which I am not that impressed with (maybe due to a ground-loop so I have to select the balanced selection on the amp even though I do not have a balanced system. I have earthed the pre-amp to the Silencer block but that did not help so do not know what to do).

 

In any case my current system does not have enough detail, has somewhat too much bass, or bass bloom (I hate bass bloom which I can hear at medium volume level), is not involving enough at lowish volumes, is a little bit shrill.  I do not want a warm sound but detail and clarity, but without harsh treble.

 

What I do want is detail, detail and detail (I am very anal), plus clarity. Complete channel separation as I call it, maybe this is called wide soundstage (I hated a Naim Nait 5 I had that sounded dark and Mono), less bass bloom, more involvement and detail at lowish volume. Somewhat warmish sound ala T-amp would also be OK (I have never heard a valve amp but think I would think that it would be too warm sounding and not detailed enough, but may be wrong).

I do not want a lot of bass, shrill treble, or too warm sound if the detail is sacrificed.

 

The listening room is around 6 x 10 metres and I listen primarily to electronic music like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop boys, but also Jesus & Mary Chain, Stone Roses and similar. I probably play 60% using the Wadia, 35% CD and 5% vinyl.

 

So I was thinking about changing the amp to say a used Naim Supernait (used due to budget constraints), or a new Sugden A21a S2, or maybe a Nuforce if I can find a good deal on eBay.

 

monitor-audio-pl200

 

Monitor Audio's Platinum PL200 loudspeakers; detailed treble from a ribbon tweeter.

 

On the other hand, going forward I would like a one make system with as few components as possible and would love – say – a Naim CD5I (or Uniti maybe?) with Naim DAC and Supernait.

 

Apart from Naim I do not see another one make system as I think Sugden CD players may not be that outstanding, or easy to integrate with the Wadia. Maybe Audiolab as I like their design as well (I know)? Brands that I like the design of are Naim, Esoteric, Sugden, NuForce, Audiolab, Musical Fidelity, MF Audio Pre, and possibly Marantz so would prefer to buy from these makes, but any suggestions are welcome.

 

The loudspeakers I would also like to change but the wife does not want to, as they are pretty. To me it sounds like Martin Logan the Source would be something I would like but the wife says they are ugly. I guess I would like an electrostatic or a standmount without a bass port(?). Thoughts?

 

Also, I think I will buy a Michell Gyro SE even though I do not listen that much to vinyl. So if the amp has a good inbuilt phono stage that would be a plus. If not, is a cheap Cambridge phono stage an alternative for a later upgrade?

 

So to summarise, I would like suggestions on: 1: One make system that fits the bill to aim for going forward, or at least suggestions on amp replacement. 2: Loudspeaker suggestions. 3: Phonostage question as per above. 4: Loudspeaker cable (the misses want something not as thick as the Chord). Tellurium Black maybe? 5: Any other suggestion you may have, for example order of upgrading as per above.

 

Budget is flexible but I would not want to pay more than say £1500 to £2000 for each main item, but can pay more if you think that is worthwhile.

And yes this time I will audition before I buy as I realise I will continue not being happy unless I do.

Best regards,

Paul Bjernklo,

London

 

Hi Paul. If you want detail, detail and more detail, but without harsh treble then you can only go the Martin Logan route. This is the only loudspeaker able to truly fulfill your needs and I strongly suggest you get a demo. You may also like to listen to Monitor Audio Platinum Series loudspeakers, like the PL200. These have very good ribbon tweeter quality treble. It’s a bit prominent, but you may find the balance to your taste.

 

I think you need to sort out the loudspeaker before working backward to the amp and source. With electrostatics I always recommend valve amps and Quad II-forties come to mind with Martin Logans, or II-eighties if you choose passive subwoofered ones. Naims would suit the Monitor Audio Platinums. Unfortunately there was a hint of bass bloom in the Platinums, even the big PL300 I reviewed. You will get drier bass from the big Triangle Antal EX loudspeakers or the recent Anniversary version, or the Spendor A9 I review in this issue. It also has intense detailing, if not the superb treble quality of the Platinums.

 

nuforce-p9ref9

 

Digital amps are characterful. A NuForce is dry but concise and distortion free. It is one of the best.

 

Digital amps (Class D PWM) are very 'characterful' and you must audition before you buy. The Lyngdorf is heavily band limited and warm; you'd probably like the dry, detailed but clean NuForce sound, but Sugden would suit too.

 

I hope you will find these comments useful. Our editor David Price can say more about the turntables. NK

 

Gosh - I can't say I shared your love of the Tripath; it always reminded me of going to the dentist! There’s no one-make system that I can think of that completely fits the bill for you. My suggestion would be to get a Sugden A21a S2 integrated amplifier which will really add insight and a finely etched midband, plus a bright and open treble. The Musical Fidelity M1 DAC is a brilliant boost for your digital sources, and is super atmospheric and amazingly detailed at the price; it should be a real improvement on the old X-DAC v8. Finally, get a Michell GyroDec SE, fit your new Tecnoarm and install a Lyra Dorian (which is about as detailed and incisive and airy as you can get at anywhere near the price).

 

Look to ANT Audio’s Kora 3T for a great solid-state phono stage; valves are unlikely to be to your taste! This done, you’ll have a fast, fleet of foot and forensic system that will be great to listen to. At this point, decide if you still don’t like your speakers and come back to us for replacement recommendations if you need to. DP


WHAT DO I WANT?

Hello all. Love the mag and appreciate your work. This is the first time I have written to the editor of any audio publication. I guess I am driven to do so partly out of frustration – frustration due to confusion and time wasted in the search for my next (computer) DAC. I currently run a “budget” Cayin USB DAC which has served me well. Like many, I have read much more than I have listened. This is mainly due to the paucity of appropriate dealers in my area. I am also fairly learned in matters where electronics and sound meet.

So, I do enjoy my DAC research. But, when I am stymied for a decision, I had enough. “Not for lovers of euphony?" – well, yes, I do like harmonious music. Do I not need/want a “reference” system in my home [rhetorical question]?


Your Weiss DAC review was overwhelmingly positive. The words used in the conclusion hint at what others refer to as a “clinical” reproduction of music. Which is it to be? I surely don’t know!

 

weiss-dc202-dac

 

Do you want a "clean sound which accurately portrays the source material"? Then get a Weiss, says Rafael.

 


I do know that I would prefer a FireWire DAC over a USB DAC for all the tech reasons. I also know that there exists a broad [price] range of less expensive DACs that all use the same, cheap off-the-shelf parts. Many try to add value with custom programming.


So, what do I want? [another rhetoric question].

Alex Salerno

New Jersey, USA

 

Dear Alex – I understand your dilemma! For me, the Weiss Dac was like a reference; it has a true, clean sound which accurately portrays the source material. By “euphonic”, I meant something which could produce a beautiful, warm cuddly sound, which may not exactly convey the warts-and-all of the source.

 

The Chord 64 DAC for example produces a sound that is closer to vinyl in nature, more mellifluous, a slightly rolled-off top. This in my book would be called "euphonic". This having been said, I would strongly recommend that you audition the two DACs to make up your own mind, as one can rapidly tire of an over-bright or flabby sound if it isn’t right. It will also be hugely dependent on the other components in your system. RT

 

ACOUSTIC DAMPING

I was very interested to read Noel Keywood’s reviews of the EAR V12 and Triangle Antal 30th Anniversary models in the February 2011 edition. The combination of articles makes it clear that people with valve amps are likely to benefit from using speakers with high acoustic damping in order to maximise bass control.


I currently have a Cyrus amp but I am considering purchasing the Icon Audio Stereo 40 Mk III. It has been reviewed favourably by Hi-Fi World, but was lab tested by Noel as having a low damping factor.


Acoustic damping per se is not normally specified by loudspeaker manufacturers, so I am wondering if there is any easy way of deciding the level of acoustic damping exhibited by any given model? As a definite non-boffin I may be wrong, but I get the impression it might be derived from the impedance curve? Part of the problem is that I don’t really understand the concept of acoustic damping!


I would be worried about the Antal swamping my 15’ x 12’ living room with bass. Previous floorstanders (Wharfedale Pacific Evo) have exhibited boomy performance despite being used on the long wall of the room and away from corners. Can you recommend any standmounters which are particularly suitable for valve amps? I listen mostly to rock, jazz and folk.


Thanks for a thought-provoking magazine and the comprehensive reviews you provide.

Regards,

Alan Greenwood

 

quadral-platinum-m4-fr1

 

Bass peak of Quadral Platinum M4 reveals low damping of a loudspeaker best suited to solid state amplifiers.

 

Hi Alan. You are absolutely right in your impression that well damped loudspeakers work fine with low damping factor valve amplifiers. It is sort of obvious, but amplifier damping factor attracts tech talk in hi-fi discussion, assuming more importance than it has in real life.

 

For some time now I have been using both low damping factor valve amplifiers and high damping factor transistor amplifiers with loudspeakers passing through our portals for review. Where the valve amps make underdamped loudspeakers boom, transistor amplifiers pull them into line. When you bear in mind that most loudspeakers are developed using transistor amplifiers in listening tests, then they are by default voiced for them. Our Spendor S8es are a perfect example: they work very well with the grippy Musical Fidelity AMS50 transistor amplifier but sound boomy and boxy with zero feedback Single Ended valve amps having a damping factor of 2 or thereabouts. With valve amps possessing feedback and a medium (circa 10) damping factor like the Quad II-eighty, they are a lot better but still ‘large’ in the bass.

 

However, with any loudspeaker that is well damped acoustically (or magnetically) I find the opposite situation exists. A low damping factor valve amplifier adds body to the sound where a high damping factor transistor amplifier sounds weedy.

 

How can you tell which loudspeakers are well damped? Ones that have no bass peak in their frequency response, or steadily falling bass output in our frequency response measurement are usually well damped. Loudspeakers that are under damped peak up a little and have lively bass at low levels and sound quite exuberant. Over damped loudspeakers work best when driven to high levels and of course we could simply say that what we are dealing with here is the ear’s changing behaviour with level, although I suspect there’s a bit more to it.

 

triangle-antal

 

Triangle Antal has high sensitivity and well damped bass, making it great for valve amplifiers.

 

If you have to get a stand mounting loudspeaker for a valve amplifier, the bigger the better. I can’t think of any that shine out in this role, but a model like the new Mission MX2 we review in this issue comes to mind, or perhaps one of the new KEF Q Series. If you go down this route use a valve amplifier with a 4 Ohm tap so you can use the many new models fitted with 4 Ohm bass units. Valve amps don’t give more power into 4 Ohms, unlike transistor amps, but they do match better, exhibiting less distortion. It isn’t a big ‘night-and-day’ issue sound quality wise I find; I constantly check sound from 8 Ohm and 4 Ohm outputs and find differences small, but if you run an amp harder than me the 4 Ohm tap is always the best bet, because valve amps work best ‘over-loaded’ (i.e. 8 Ohm loudspeaker on 4 Ohm tap) than ‘under-loaded’ (i.e. 4 Ohm loudspeaker on 8 Ohm tap). NK


FINAL TWEAKS

Firstly, may I congratulate you on your continued publication of a superb magazine. It is the only publication whose opinion I would look to in addition to forming my own through listening. The end of the month always holds that little bit of excitement for me as I await the trip to the newsagent to pick up my copy (yes I should get round to subscribing again which I have done in the past).


Secondly, having never written before, I wonder whether you could provide me with some advice on the final tweaks that I might apply to my system. It consists of the following: Marantz KI Pearl CD player and amplifier, Art Emotion Monitor Signature ‘speakers, Michell Gyrodec with SME IV arm and Sumiko Bluepoint Special III cartridge (the Gyro has the Orbe platter and upgraded power supply). Cabling is, for the speakers Chord Company Odyssey, and interconnects are Van den Hul Integration between the amp and CD player, and Nordost turntable cable between the Gyro and the amp’s phono stage. I have a dedicated mains spur in place and I also run a Sonos connection through the DAC input on the CD player which links through to a lot of music held on an iMac desktop computer. I would like your views on the following.


I am curious as to how good the phono stage in the Marantz Pearl amp is and whether I would benefit from an outboard phono stage, and if so one valve orientated; if the answer is in the affirmative what would you recommend. I don’t want to spend money if you think it would not be money well spent. I thought about buying a Puresound MM phono stage on the basis that the Bluepoint Special is high output.


Do I need to run cabling from the same manufacturer throughout my system i.e. if I keep the speaker cabling (which I have to do as it is currently running through a pipe under our wooden floor), then should I be upgrading my interconnects, in particular between the CD player and amplifier to something from the Chord range – and how much should I spend? Sorry to be bring up the old cable debate again but this letter is about final tweaks rather than fundamental changes.


Would it be worth my while upgrading my cartridge at any point to something higher end and if so should I be going MC or MM?


I listen to all types of music but in particular jazz and blues with a particular emphasis on guitar based music as I play the guitar.

Thanks again for a great magazine.

Kind regards,

Benjamin Apfel

London

 

There's little point buying an MM-only phono stage and then deciding you want a moving coil cartridge, so do try and look at this in a more strategic manner. First, the phono stage on the Marantz is surprisingly good. It's not the sort of ten cent op-amp type thing you'd find in a Pioneer A100, from the old days when they stuck 'em in to tick off a box on the spec sheet. Ken Ishiwata did a serious job and regularly demonstrates the KI Pearl with vinyl, via the amp's own built-in phono stage, to great effect. However, the KI Pearl amp is still easily good enough to benefit from a better phono stage, and to this end I am tempted to recommend the Icon Audio PS1.2, as it's a particularly capable tube phono stage, and I feel this might be where you're heading what with your penchant for jazz!

 

It will of course work with both MM and MC cartridges, and to this end I'd suggest the very first thing you do – before you get the Icon Audio PS1.2, is to junk your Sumiko BPS. For some strange and completely unfathomable (!) reason, everyone seems to think I hate Denon DL103s. Well I don't, but what I do hate is Sumiko Blue Points; they're scratchy, fidgety and as satisfying to listen to as your cat trying to open the bedroom door with his paw. So I beseech you to remove it, and replace it with – depending on your budget – a Dynavector DV10X5 (£295), an Audio Technica AT33 EV (£450) or a Lyra Dorian (£595). The slightly light, brighter balance of the Lyra in particular would suit the fulsome tonal balance of the Icon Audio tube phono stage. DP

 

CASSETTE LIFE

I was just reading a couple of my previous copies of Hi-Fi World about the Sony WE-475. I have got two Sony older cassette decks, two Dolby ones. I actually bought one from ebay today which I picked up for twenty pounds. It is the TC-K661S and it was in rather good condition and works perfectly. It had hardly been used I’m told, and I did believe the guy who sold it to me.

 

My other deck is the TC-K611S which I won a while ago on ebay for £27.

 

I also read the article on the Phoenix cassettes. I buy my TDK-SA cassettes off ebay also; they can be bought for £12 pounds for 10 which is cheap - and with free postage too.

The article on the newish Sony cassette deck that Tim Jarman reviews. You can buy these decks on ebay for around £60 pounds. After reading that review I was well impressed with the performance of it.

Lee Dodd

 

cassette-hpf

 

DP’s handy tip for those seeking podcast functionality from Compact Cassettes!

 

Hi Lee – I totally agree; there's so much more mileage left in the cassette format. For some reason, in the late nineties, so many people stopped using it, almost because they thought they should. But if you never stopped playing tapes then they still seem hard to replace. I use cassettes in a portable player in the bedroom, a small portable in the bathroom, a portable in the kitchen, in the car and on my Walkman Pro out and about. Oh, and for occasional serious listening at home too. And when my solid-state digital micro-recorder broke down shortly before the Whittlebury show last autumn, I duly shoved a Maxell MX C90 into my Sony WM-D6C and took it with me to record my interview with Eleanor McEvoy! I ended up with a better recording of her voice than I've ever heard from her albums, off disc.

 

As you say, blank TDK SA 90s are about £1 a pop and on Amazon you can get new TDK D 90s for pennies; with a well set up deck they're almost as good sounding as the SA. If you want a good, well set up brand new machine to play these on, then the £150 Sony TC WE-475 takes some beating; we're still scratching our heads about why it can be so good at the price. Compared to its few remaining rival decks, it's on another level in terms of build and alignment; like the Technics SL1200 compared to all its plastic imitators! I know you can get second-hand ones much cheaper on eBay but it's well worth buying new (while you still can), to get yourself lovely fresh heads, belts, gears and motors, all nicely in alignment!

 

Still, whilst Compact Cassettes are still the answer to my mobile music needs, there's one aspect of the iPod experience that I adore – and that is podcasts. As an avid walker, I am hooked on them and the little Apple makes this easily possible. But now I've invented the solution; just record your podcasts directly onto a high quality, classic three head machine with variable bias and record sensitivity, via a small 3.5mm minijack to RCA phono lead. Then, add a Sony Walkman and you're off out and about with your podcasts as if iPods had never been invented! Thoughtfully, the BBC edits Pienaar's Politics (my favourite podcast) to fit a single side of a Sony FX90! DP

 

PORTABLE DELIGHT

Over time I’ve observed Hi-Fi World has reviewed portable devices offered by the likes of Sony etc. Then, in the September issue, there was a rather odd review of an oddly named RoCoo player.


I’ve yet to see a review of anything from Cowon, a Korean company with a formidable audiophile reputation. Is this perhaps because they are hard to source in the UK? Anyway, these guys make some very respectable gear. They even have a dedicated following on iAudiophile.net.


After extensive reading and research, I purchased a Cowon S9 whilst on business in Korea (but they are available here in Singapore at least). I don’t have any technical specifications, but it supposedly has a very good Wolfson WM8750S DAC and quality HP stage. An added bonus is that Cowons always support a plethora of formats including FLAC and OGG (but not ALAC, I suspect).


How does it sound you ask? Quite frankly, superb. I play maximum quality OGG files at 500 kbps, which touches the lower end of FLAC but does save space. After A-B comparisons of these formats, I couldn’t hear significant differences. It won’t replace your stereo or home headphone rig, but it certainly provides portable audiophile-quality music.

Try getting hold of one. I think you might be pleasantly surprised...

Regards,

Raymond Komen

P.S. I am not affiliated with Cowon at all!

 

cowon-x7-hpf

 

Cowon X7 plays nearly all audio formats and gives great sound. An audiophile dream, but may not make it into New York's Museum of Modern Art.

 

Thanks Raymond – I'm familiar with the Cowon brand and you're right, they do sound very good and they're particularly versatile too. They're not the world's sleekest and slickest to use, but really reward the 'advanced user', whereas iPods are great all singing and all dancing gadgets, with sadly sub-par sound (via their inbuilt analogue output stage, at least). We're doing the Cowon X7 in this very issue, and so you'll soon see how much we like it. Still, for me the Sony NWZ-A845 is the king of portables (or its 64GB, £280 big brother the A847). This has beautiful build (that makes the Cowon look plasticky and clumsy), great flexibility and superb sound. I think the S9 might just wing it sonically, but it's very close and the Sony is the better package. Although not directly comparable, in terms of build, sound and 'feel' it makes the iPod Nano look crude. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Apple fan and feel nauseous when I go within ten yards of a PC; but I think that people who place sonics above all else aren't currently catered for by Cupertino. As I've said before, come on Apple, let's have an 'iPod Pro'! DP

 

MYSTRO MAGIC

Hello. I have read your interesting article about the integrated ‘Sugden Mystro’ (January 2010), but I didn’t understood the following sentence in the text:

 

‘...For starters, the amp has a big bouncy and tuneful bass that is apparently unphased by what is going on elsewhere in the frequency spectrum...’

 

Do you mean that the bass is out of phase and is posing a problem? Can you give me more explications about that?

Thank you very much.

Sincerely yours,

Alain Gorlier,

Nantes,

France

 

sugden-mystroamp

 

Sugden Mystro made Alain Gorlier happy in Nantes.

 

Hi Alain. This is colloquial English – sorry! It means, in proper English “big, bouncy (dynamic) bass unaffected by all else in the frequency spectrum”.

‘Fazed’ is an American slang term, and does not relate to electrical phase.

Best regards,

Noel Keywood, publisher

(direct e-mail reply)

 

Hi Noel. Thank you very much for yours precisions about this integrated amplifier. I have bought the ‘Sugden Mystro’ amplifier and I confirm that it is excellent !

Best regards,

Alain Gorlier


ROCK ORIENTED AUDIO

I’ve been very satisfied reading your opinion in February Hi-Fi World. Although I used to play classical music on piano for a few years long time ago, I was growing on Rock and Pop music. I equally love Bach, Handel and Led Zepp, Black Sabbath, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and thousands more. I just love the music and love the sound and that’s why I feel I’m on neutral side of the discussion.


But there’s real problem regarding reviews. In many magazines reviewers are Classical oriented [look at test CD list] and they don’t put enough attention to pop/rock music! But it’s in opposition to reality – most hi-fi users listen to pop / r&b / hip hop/ dance / club/ techno / rock, so such test material is a must! There are rock or classical or jazz or universal items/systems – and reader should know if it fits to his preferences ...


Did anybody hear Metallica in Audio Show rooms? SaraK, Diana Krall, small jazz combo and the most wanted: acoustic guitar solo [no lows no highs and only one instrument]. Ha ha ha ... what a density of track, fastest transients, drums’ wall of noise, speed of low bass etc. Of course one shouldn’t use real life quality CDs [99% of market share] but RefRec,Stockfish, etc. [1% market share]... and review/demo with “happy end” is ready...


Looking at the audio magazines, forums, etc. you can rarely see really happy audiophiles but there are plenty screaming for help! Why? Their systems don’t deliver what they promised to and unfortunately they fail for large amount of money.


I think that real added value of audio magazines is to show up whole audio systems with best synergy between components – that’s what can save people’s time [weeks, months and years].


I believe in your experience as you often use Rock demo tracks to test equipment – and it’s not very popular way of showing +/- of audio system.

That’s why I opt for your recommendation: ‘speakers [standmount] / or whole system for hard rock / pop/electronica [small room 13 m2].

I’ve got second system for classical and more polite music so I look for typical R&R / pop system! [it really doesn’t have to be universal..]

What I want is bass: fast, taut and super controlled [lower end 40-45Hz ]; not boomy midrange; not recessed top; clear, not harsh, not exposed.

Character: open, full bodied not thin/plain, effortless dynamics at high volumes [not hardening !]; not exposing “bad recordings” [it’s not a torture!], Rock’nRoll character: not sweet but sharp, expressive, furious, engaging, rhythmic, drive, plenty of details and huge soundstage are not so expected [you can’t always get all you want], price up to £500 for speakers [without stands] /  £1600 for CDP+amp+speakers.


I think it would be extremely useful to see complete systems group test [four systems or more, but in one price range and clearly oriented] or minimum two complete systems in each Hi-Fi World magazine and of course details of partnering equipment in every review.

Best regards,

Manio

p.s. sorry for my “English” – I know it’s just a torture for you.

 

kef-q100

 

For a balanced and even presentation that doesn't make bad recordings sound worse, a new KEF iQ100 may well suit Manio.

 

Hi Manio. Are you sure most hi-fi publications / sites use predominantly classical music when reviewing products? In my experience Rock is most common and classical comparatively rare. We use both and, for us in an analytical review context, classical delivers real instruments with a strong timbral signature, such as violins, cellos, horns etc, that you don’t easily find in Rock. Stringed instruments in Rock nowadays are likely to be synthesised, and much else can be heavily processed so a few simple, clean classical recordings can reveal much that pounding Rock may not. However, as all Rock listeners know, it comes in many and all forms and generalisations are just that. For example, Eleanor McEvoy produces high quality Rock, but she is a classically trained musician (a violinist) who uses a variety of instruments and likes to record them well.

I think you have to accept that at shows manufacturers will want to play high quality recordings when demonstrating products. It hardly makes sense to use bad recordings, although some of the stuff I have to endure does make me want to head for the bar.

 

Why systems do not deliver will always be controversial. There are many reasons, including both tastes and expectations – and also the room. In a small-ish room like yours, of 13 square metres, you will have quite a strong resonant room mode in the 40Hz region. How strong depends upon the ratio of length to width, equality (i.e. a square room) being worst. Irrespective, standmounters are for you and with your budget I suggest you listen to the new models from KEF.

 

But please bear in mind that a good system is revealing and cannot be otherwise, so exposing bad recordings. However, the KEF Q100s we have for review are smooth and mild mannered and do not make bad recordings sound worse by emphasising distortion harmonics, a problem with all loudspeakers that possess rising treble, as so many do nowadays. NK

 

ROOM CONTROL

I wonder if you could help me with a problem controlling three areas, level only, I do not wish the expense of rewiring a house built of reinforced concrete!

The source is an iPod via an Onkyo digital dock through a Cambridge Audio DAC, through an Arcam 6 channel, to run three stereo areas, connected to Canton speakers and subs.

I am looking for a simple hi-fi quality preamp with minimum three stereo volume controls, 1 /2 stereo in to be driven by the Cambridge DAC. After much internet searching this does not seem to exist! Is there either a kit that could be adapted by some one who could be relied upon, that could construct such an item? I would be very grateful for any help that you could give me with this!

Yours,

Peter Schuster

 

creek-obh-22

 

Don't be a flamingo, get a Creek OBH-22 passive preamp – three of them (with one remote control)!

 

Hi Peter, no I have never seen a preamp with three volume controls either, probably because most humans have two hands and tend not to use a foot as well, for fear of falling over. So two volume controls, one for left channel and one for right is the maximum.

 

If your Arcam receiver has multichannel inputs and outputs, as many receivers do, then you can use three Creek OBH-22 passive preamplifiers to control gain independently in each of your areas. Just lead the preamp outputs to the Creek inputs, and the Creek output back to the receiver inputs, and select the multichannel input of the receiver. Then watch a few films of Flamingos and be glad about what you missed. NK

 

CABLE DEBATE

There is one aspect of the cable debate upon which the recent interesting correspondence (including your article of Feb 2011 has not yet touched). It does appear that the influence of suggestion both auto and otherwise on the ability of individuals to make unbiased judgments has not been considered. I speak as a recently retired medical specialist / scientist who is only too aware of his own ignorance of the scientific basis of High-Fidelity.


If you ask a person to decide between capital A and capital B for a variety of biological end-points e.g. taste, pain perception, sound quality etc, suggestion can exert a very powerful influence. We know from controlled trials that clinical evaluation can be influenced by many subtle unconscious triggers, so that to do meaningful studies with such comparisons both the observer and the subject under examination must be unaware of all possible confounding factors, the so called “double blind” design.


In the simplest situation therefore comparing A and B, both volunteer and tester have to be unaware of the identity of the two interconnects under examination. Secondly the study design should take account of the importance of statistical probability. In order to achieve the scientifically acceptable five per cent statistical significance (p < 0.05) a volunteer would need to be correct in six consecutive examinations of A vs B presented in random order.


I would guess that such a test might confirm your impression of a true difference between bell wire and QED 79. However, would it do so in more subtle comparisons that you think show a difference?


It would be of interest also to perform the test using a variety of musical sources and volunteers. Trained ears such as your own, might achieve better discrimination. Happy testing!

Yours sincerely,

Roger Corrall

Bristol

 

Hi Roger. The issue of suggestion is raised tacitly when those who believe in cable differences are accused of being influenced by an invalid debate, 'invalid' meaning technically differences cannot be proved and therefore do not exist (David went over the illogicality of this).

 

If a large number of people around the world (i.e. of differing cultural values and outlook) feel cables do make a difference this is, I suggest, good enough to make the finding true. Even if it weren't true and they don't make a difference, that enough people feel it is true makes it true. You bump into philosophical problems saying otherwise.

Why don't we use listening tests to prove the point? Well, we do, using a large number of diverse listeners, for this is what is happening when we print letters from people saying they do make a difference. You can only say this is invalid by believing they are all wrong / deluded, influenced, etc.

 

I have run listening tests of the sort you allude to and found that the stress of being in such a test blunted perceptions. An unusual environment, strangers, physical conditions such as heat, cold, seating, poor listening position and timed excerpts, perhaps of unknown or uncritical music excerpts, all conspire to upset and confuse listeners. In a relaxing and known environment (a lounge) differences are most easily perceived.

 

Statistical analysis doesn't make invalid data valid. Collecting valid data is the issue here, not one easy to solve but very deeply biological and right up your street I'd say! But it means making someone a cup of tea, handing out biscuits and being welcoming I found, whilst hoping they had no alcohol in their blood, were relaxed and unstressed, had good hearing, etc. If you go through all the preconditions of a meaningful listening test, they aren't so easy to control or meet. NK

 

TESTING SOLID STATE AMPS

Hi. In the December issue NK replied to a reader about how transistor amplifiers have more distortion at 1 watt than higher power. I’m wondering if he ever did any tests on the Quad 306, 405, 909 etc. solid state amps which by my understanding have a low power stage and a high power one. If he has, how did they fare in his tests?

Regards,

Joe Wdowiak (in Canada)

 

Hi Joe. I cannot recall testing these amplifiers, but as you say they did use a very linear, low level amplifier. Whilst a great number of amplifiers suffer rising distortion at low levels, about which their designers seem oblivious (we have just rejected a YBA amplifier sent for review for this reason), there is no need for it as modern components and circuits can yield perfect low level linearity in transistor amplifiers. This is something we look for by measuring distortion at 1 Watt, into a 4 Ohm load, at 10kHz, the most revealing distortion measurement that we make, believe it or not. It is this analysis that we publish as an oscillogram (really, it is distortion spectrum from a Rohde & Schwarz UPL analyser).

 

 

cyrus-amps

 

Cyrus amplifiers produce no crossover distortion and have smooth treble.

 

Ideally, only second harmonic distortion will exist, not an array of higher harmonics. Whilst the ear likely does not directly hear a third harmonic at 30kHz or a fifth harmonic at 50kHz, it can hear the intermodulation distortion also produced by such non-linearity, depending upon its correlation (really, lack of correlation) with the audio signal.

 

If you buy any decent modern amplifier, from Creek, Musical Fidelity or Cyrus to name a few, or Cambridge or Rega to name a few more, this distortion will not exist. Many – or even most – decent Japanese amplifiers are now linear at low levels too, including the better A/V receivers from Onkyo and Marantz, so there is no need for any of us to suffer this problem, and the coarse treble it produces, any more. And, in my experience, Quads never did have rough treble so I doubt they had crossover distortion. Peter Walker would not have liked it! NK


 
Comments (1)
KEF Q100
1Friday, 08 June 2012 20:57
Jake Thomas
The Cyrus amps will drive the [url=http://www.hifigear.co.uk/kef-q100-bookshelf-speakers.html] KEF Q100 speakers easily, they sound great in my Cyrus system.

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