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May 2011 issue

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World Mail    May 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.

 


 

tannoy-revolution-dc10

For great sound staging and wonderful sound quality get Tannoy DC10s.


SOUND STAGING

Dave Mayer’s letter (Hi-Fi World, February 2011) encapsulates the fragile and transitory nature of hi-fi excellence. A box full of electronics can, quite by chance, take us to a higher musical plane. But as Mr Mayer’s letter shows, excellence and mediocrity are perched on a knife edge. The Surrey dealer mentioned in the letter would certainly have wanted to present his customer’s music in the most impressive manner possible. So top quality components matched with the utmost care, would have been selected. Hi-fi retailers are in business to make money after all, so they are going to pull out all the stops. Yet both the dealer and Mr. Mayer agreed that the slightly ageing Teac / Trivista pairing was a major improvement. A lucky piece of system synergy perhaps, but also testimony to the fact that both hi-fi retailing and purchasing are fraught with difficulties. Finding something adequate is easy : finding something really outstanding appears to take an awful lot of time, effort and money and not a little luck as well.


Subsequently, Dave Mayer’s Tri-Vista DAC was repaired and slightly modified by J.S Audio. A few small tweaks, with brand new ‘better’ components and suddenly the magic had evaporated. A coldly logical piece of technology which previously conjured art from thin air, now refused to respond to logic. A ghost in the machine? Audio circuit design as the new alchemy? Well maybe we shouldn’t be distracted by such fanciful notions, because the next bit of the story is much more interesting.


According to his letter, as soon as Dave Meyer told J.S Audio how he wanted the Tri-Vista to sound, they were able to modify it to achieve a magnificent result. So does this mean there was a misunderstanding to begin with? Does Mr. Meyer like something about the un-modded Tri-Vista’s sound which specialists J.S. Audio had either overlooked, or simply dismissed as unimportant?


People have different ideas about what constitutes good sound and that is all part of tailoring audio equipment for various customers. But problems occur when manufacturers and reviewers don’t define their particular ‘house style’. For example, a manufacturer might emphasise the blisteringly fast delivery of musical transients from their amplifier. However, the hidden sub-text is, ‘all that clout is at the expense of tonal accuracy, but we don’t think anyone would enjoy that anyway’. So the customer might audition a very expensive system and wonder why it leaves them cold. What they may not know is that the designer has already decided that some aspects of music reproduction - tonal accuracy or sound-staging for example - are simply not on the radar.


The problem is not that ‘good sound’ is subjective. It is more to do with the fact that some people haven’t been told that their sonic desires are irrelevant. This creates real difficulties for customers. Getting out to far flung dealers for lengthy auditions is very time consuming. It is a lot worse when the reviewer who gave your potential purchase five stars, hasn’t told you that he doesn’t share your sonic priorities.


A recent attempt to help people buy a decent system without too much fuss, is the return of the package deal. A carefully matched system from one source is currently on offer and best of all, it is good value for money. The gear has the seal of approval from a very experienced hi-fi journalist and I am sure some people will concur with his verdict that this is an excellent sounding system. Unfortunately, the old problem of lack of communication arises once again. Tucked away in one of the journalist’s previous articles is the revelation that the audiophile obsession with sound-staging is just a phase we all go through. It is a relic of the early days of stereo, with steam trains chuffing from one speaker to the other and according to him, doesn’t have much to do with our enjoyment of music.


I don’t share his views but that is not the issue. When this journalist reviewed the mail-order system, he didn’t announce that sound staging wasn’t a major priority to him. So we don’t actually know whether he assessed the equipment on the basis that poor imaging would be ignored. The fact is, sound staging is very important to many audiophiles. If they take the journalist’s advice to buy the system, any disappointment will be caused by an entirely avoidable break down in communication and not nebulous differences in sonic tastes.


Hi-Fi World has opened up the debate surrounding valves vs transistors, vinyl vs digital, speed vs musicality etc. This seems to have prompted many manufacturers to provide more fully rounded products. So perhaps the bad old days of prog rock loving manufacturers and reviewers refusing to acknowledge the undoubted charms of a tonally correct sackbut, are all but gone!


My idea of audio Nirvana is a cavernously deep soundstage. The front to back dimension of the soundscape is more important to me than almost any other aspect of hi-fi so I would be grateful for any advice you can offer. The system consists of a Sugden Masterclass pre / power (the older ‘Aztec’ fronted version, reviewed by Andy Grove when he was at Hi-Fi World), Sugden CD 21, Michelle Gyrodec SE, Origin Live Illustrious, Lyra Argo (i), IPL Acoustics S5TL transmission lines (93 dB), Hart ‘shunt feedback’ phono stage, Nordost Blue Heaven / CopperTech Alpha interconnects and Chord Rumour 4 bi-wired speaker cables. The listening room is 7m x 5.5 m x 2.3 m high. The speakers fire across the short axis.


The system images fairly well width-ways and the perceived image depth is about 4 feet, front to back. I am fairly certain that the soundstage depth is being limited by the speakers, as there is virtually no difference between CD or vinyl sources for image depth. When I first constructed the speakers the soundstage was nicely spaced out between the speakers, but completely flat. A hi-fi dealer suggested bringing the tweeters out about an inch to improve dispersion characteristics. The effect was immediate, with the image opening out to a perceived depth of about 4 feet. I experimented by bringing the tweeters (and mid-range) out further, but 4 foot was the maximum possible image depth. I have experimented extensively with speaker positioning / toe in, but the present set up is about the best I can get it. If you think new speakers would help (floor-standers please), I would like advice on the best ones for image depth - to the exclusion of all other factors if necessary.


The Mordaunt Short Performance 6s are very nice to look at, but I don’t know if they create a particularly deep soundstage. You reviewed some big Russian floor-standers, but I had difficulty finding the importer or retailer and am not sure if the Masterclass could handle the impedance curve. When Noel did the original review of the Triangle Antals I got the impression that the soundstage was substantial in both directions, but in his latest ‘30th Anniversary’ review there is no mention of depth. I have heard good things about KEF Reference floor-standers, but have no idea how older secondhand models would measure up to brand new expensive versions. Would any of the KEF Reference range be suitable? Other options might be Martin Logan or Quad electrostatics, but would the Sugden handle the current demands?


I like classical, opera, jazz, soul, with occasional bits of pop. The Sugden seems to handle most types of music very well, despite being only 50 watts a channel. I might be able to stretch to a budget of £3000, but would much prefer to buy the same thing secondhand for less than this. So a plentiful used supply might be an advantage.

Your thoughts please.

Best wishes,

Frankie


martin-logan-ethos

Martin Logan's forthcoming Theos merges their fine X-Stat electrostatic panel with an unpowered bass cabinet.

 

Methinks you need big Tannoys Frankie, like DC10s, but they are right out of your budget. If you can, however, try to get a listen – then think about a bank loan! Yorkminsters may also work in your room, but this is a bit less certain as they do need a big space and 8-10m rooms (longest dimension). Second hand Tannoys are worth considering but their big Dual-Concentrics are popular and command high prices, and Tannoy have usefully improved the central mid/treble horn over the last few years, making it progressively smoother and more couth, so a recent model is best.

 

We await the Martin Logan Theos with eagerness. This uses their superb X-Stat electrostatic panel, atop an unpowered subwoofer, but it may need more power than your Sugden can raise. Sound staging will be superb though.

 

The ‘Russian’ floorstanders were the RRR FX100s and they were superb for their modest price of £1000. RRR is short for Rigonda Radio Riga and they are in fact Latvian (they were at pains to tell us!). We have not heard from them for some time but I am on the lookout.

 

rrr-fs100

The massive RRR FS100 from Rigonda Radio of Rega, Latvia - a massive loudspeaker with great bass.

 

Both Mordaunt Short and Creek make loudspeakers that sound-stage well, with a strong depth perspective, but as you are so tuned into this aspect I cannot be sure they would satiate your desire! KEF are introducing new models and they look very strong to me; I like KEF References.

I think it shameful any reviewer can ignore sound staging, but in the past there has been emphasis on pace and timing, plus dynamics at the expanse of all else. Unfortunately, these properties can be quite easily contrived – I know because I have done it when designing loudspeakers – and what you get is a highly specific type of delivery that suits Rock listeners who want a PA stack at home, but no one else.

 

The small conceptual difficulty total accuracy raises is that it appeals greatly to no one. It isn’t by definition as good as a loudspeaker tuned for narrow purpose, at least when used for that purpose (e.g. tuned for Rock and playing Rock). Yet I can take heart – well we all can! – because Quad’s ESL-57 is as self effacing as they come, but just look at its legendary status and wide following. On that note you could of course consider something like a One Thing tuned ESL-57; it suits your musical tastes. NK

 

STOP THE BOUNCE

The solution to John Drew’s problem of lifting and lowering the pickup arm on a bouncy suspended subchassis turntable (Letters, February 2011) is very simple. Cut a small block of rubber so that it just fits between the top of the turntable subchassis and the underside of the plinth top plate with 1mm clearance or so. Place the block on the subchassis in a convenient position as close as possible to the arm pillar, so that there is no contact when a record is playing but any movement brings the block into contact with the top plate and stops it moving any more. The result is a turntable which maintains the acoustic isolation of the suspended subchassis, yet is almost as bounce-free to cue as a solid plinth model.

While on the subject of tweaks, maybe those who still use old SME 3009 pickup arms should investigate the idea of packing mastic between the cartridge body and the headshell. SME used to recommend this in the arm’s final years of production and supplied a suitable material, which was said to improve the sound considerably.


Finally (honestly!), for those who have followed the Denon 103/ Expert Paratrace stylus saga, I have discovered that although tracking is perfect at the 1.8-2.0g recommended by Expert Stylus, increasing this to 2.2g gives better tonal balance, removing the last traces of brightness and ‘glare’ from the sound. I suspect that in Adam Smith’s old Empire 598 turntable, the sound could be disturbingly good.

Yours sincerely,

Alasdair Beal


WARM CASTLE

I hope you don’t mind me writing out of the blue but, I have been looking to acquire a full range speaker to pair with my Arcam Alpha 10 integrated. I have been listening to Castle Inversion 15s for years and they are wonderful speakers and well matched with the Arcam, a little warm, very musical and yet detailed and accurate. The lower end though is missing and that is what I hope to correct. I expect that I will also upgrade the Arcam at some point as well, but for now I am focused on speakers.


I read your Sonus Faber Liuto review. That is one of the speakers I am interested in and I will be listening to them myself at a dealer here as a result. Another speaker I am considering is the similarly priced Dali Helicon 400. This is a very different design, with two small woofers and not a real midrange, but I have heard the larger Euphonia series and they are some of the best speakers I have ever heard. I listen to a lot of piano music and acoustic music in general and I prefer the bass to be very well controlled but still forceful when it is present.

 

So my question is: have you reviewed or listened to any of the Dali line and could you reflect on the character of the sound produced by them as compared with the Liuto? I do not have the Helicon available here to listen to and I know both speakers will have their merits, yet I am trying to gather data where I can. Thank you for your time.

Regards,

Grant Fergeson

Houston

Texas

new-dali-helicon400se

Dali Helicon 400 gives a clear sound with impressive treble quality but it has a bright balance.

 

Hi Grant. The Helicon series loudspeakers are impressive and the large 800 is now available at bargain prices on the net I see – a range change is imminent I suspect. Dali’s drive units give a clear and timbrally neutral sound, unlike the alloy cones popping up everywhere, and their tweeter module comprising dome and ribbon, gives superb treble. I have heard the Liuto and it wasn’t in the same league. Note that both have a bright balance; the Dali is meant to be heard off-axis (i.e. facing down the room, not at the listener).

For what you seem willing to pay you should also consider a Tannoy DC10. This has an altogether smoother and less forced sound with stupendous dynamics. Its cryogenically treated crossover conveys real low level detail, without screaming treble. NK

 

STANDMOUNTS

Perhaps you’re able to help me with my quest for a pair of stand mount speakers of reasonable efficiency. I know there’s a bit of a contradiction in there because monitor speakers are not well known for being sensitive. However, they have to work together with my Parallel Single-Ended amplifier which uses four 300B output tubes and deliver 18 watts of tube power. Doesn’t sound like much but my amplifier was built to order, the transformers have been specially designed for this amp. It has a huge, oversized power supply which offers lots of reserve power, it doesn’t shy away from a more demanding load. I don’t want to loose too much extension in the bass department. That’s why I’m not looking for a mini monitor but something more substantial with a larger midwoofer than the usual 6in units (or smaller) commonly used in stand mount speakers. Mini monitors also tend to compress when they’re asked to reproduce large scale music at more elevated levels. By the way, I’m not a fan of subwoofers so I don’t want to take that route.


You tested a very interesting monitor, the MAD Grand MM a while ago. Based on your very positive review this speaker might be a worthy candidate. You described them as big, bouncy and engaging with a holographic soundstage. Furthermore they rock and do classical music as well so they’re real all-rounders it would seem. Since I have a broad taste in music that will suit my purpose well. Besides I like speakers with a fine dynamic expression, I find these sound more involving.


The point is that I’m not able to audition them where I live which means that I would have to purchase them in good faith. Can you tell me if these speakers will be a good match with my amplifier or do they need more power than my amplifier is capable of? I’m not listening at rock concert levels by the way, most of the time the sound level fluctuates between 80 and 85 dB when measured with a sound meter app that I loaded on my iPhone. That’s measured from my listening seat ca. 2.5 - 3 mtrs from the speakers. Currently I’m using floorstanders with a 88 dB sensitivity and a 10 inch midwoofer which my amplifier can drive to satisfying levels.


The Cabasse Bora might be a contender, this model also uses a coaxial drive unit but is a genuine 3 way speaker because it has a dedicated 8 inch woofer, I don’t think you’ve tested this speaker yet? I would be curious to see how these speakers compare...


Are there perhaps any other recommendations you could give me ? Your advice would be much appreciated.

Best regards,

Ben van Baaren

Netherlands


mad-clapton

MAD MyClapton Grand MM, a thoughtfully engineered loudspeaker.

 

I can’t comment on the Cabasse, but can certainly vouch for the MAD MyClapton Grand MM. Don’t be put off by the silly name (!); it’s a very thoughtfully engineered loudspeaker that is quite different to the crowd. I found it capable of going very, very loud in a largish room with a 35W pure Class A Musical Fidelity; I barely got the volume control past the twelve o’clock position. As such I think you’d be pretty safe with your tube amp, unless you run a vast listening room and/or like Motorhead at real life levels. The speaker has a quite a robust ‘rock’ sound to it; it’s not a shrinking violet with weak knees and an aversion to loud parties! Yet it’s also very subtle and even handed, and doesn’t possess a ‘sweet spot’, so it would suit classical well. I was most impressed with it, and all the more surprised that it was from a relatively unknown name. I’d try it if I were you. DP

 

CABLE CAPERS

If you listen to a cable you do hear a difference, a real one. Change almost anything and you hear a difference. If there is a change and you can’t measure it, then your testing system isn’t good enough. I would refer Mr Howgego to the Vertex, Nordost, joint presentation at last years National Show, on new tools of measurement in assessing cables, where they did detect a difference. I couldn’t understand a word, but the graphs were pretty.

 

The problem to me is whether different is better. If you have shelled out money for a new cable, you don’t want to appear a plonker if there isn’t a difference, so you want to hear an improvement. I can always hear a difference, whether it is better sometimes needs golden ears, not my cloth ones.

 

Moving on to buying accessories, it does seem that second hand cable is often very cheap. Ironic, as it is one of the most unbreakable components. I recently treated myself to some second hand, real high end speaker cables, Virtual dynamic revelations. These were about £5500 new for an 8ft single run, i picked them up for a bit over 10% of that, perhaps because the company is out of business, not surprising at these prices, I hear you say. Still cheap mind you, compared to £20,000+, Nordost Odins, Siltech Forbes lake etc. After I struggled and swore, trying to fit the rigid, heavy cables, the difference was quite astonishing, in clarity, soundstage, neutrality, frequency extremes, quite astonishing. Easily equivalent to replacing my broken CD player recently.

 

For many, including Mr Howgego, power cables and products are the most controversial, as his letter intimates. Well I have borrowed some quality power cable from a US start up company, selling at a discount to get established. The owner suggested trying on the turntable power supply. Nah, it’s a large, German, precision engineered unit and all it’s got to do is turn a platter at 33 and1/3RPM, waste of time. Blow me, if the small niggling worries about the table, the fuzziness at the leading edge of notes, the slight lack of base extension, hadn’t largely disappeared. Even I, a cable convert, didn’t think a turntable power supply could benefit.

 

So to all you doubters, all you have to do is borrow some cables and listen without prejudice, as the CD once said. The trouble is of course, it opens up a whole new area for expense, doubt and tinkering.

David Wise

 

Hi David - yep, I’d say that’s a very fair summation of the situation! Cables can make a profound difference, although it normally costs an even more profound sum of money to get ones good enough to do it! Ditto turntable power supplies; the Linn Valhalla taught us this as far back as 1981; a motor is only as good as the AC signal it’s got feeding it. The better your PSU, the smoother and more detailed your deck sounds; even speed stability can be radically transformed. DP

 

K5881

As a regular reader starting with your first issue it has taken me a long time to put fingers to keyboard in appreciation of your magazine. What has finally stirred me into action are the results I have achieved by introducing the WAD K5881 into my main system as a substitute for my long serving chrome bumper Naim NAP 250. The 250 needs repair, having developed a nasty buzz. I was resigned to pressing my NAD 3020 power amp section into service with my LP12, Ittok, Troika (rebuilt), olive Naim NAC82 with Supercap (so you know what kind of sound I like) to drive my SBLs.

 

However, the K5881 (which I built in 1996 and subsequently modded to Mk II) had been lying around barely used whilst my daughter was growing up, having never been dropped into a decent system before. I bought a 4 pin DIN to phono lead from e-bay as an experiment and plugged it into the Supercap and SBLs. I was met by a high level of hiss from the speakers, but overlayed with some very interesting and musical sounds. There is far too much gain in the system (for CD the volume control operates over a very small angular range) but better with vinyl as ever!

 

The hissy culprit is the NAC82 it seems. To add insult to injury (the injury being the cheapish lead between pre and the K5881) the hiss problem / volume control compression was improved enormously by fitting attenuators in line. The result is still well worth listening too and I think the 250 is going to struggle to be picked for the team when I get it back. The best is yet to come, I tracked down some Black Gates on e-bay and replaced the capacitors; having dug out the relevant DIY supplement from the late ‘90s. The bottom octave has returned whilst retaining the clarity, speed and definition of the standard amplifier. The 250 is now potentially on the transfer list. This leads me to ask two questions.

What is the optimum output transformer tap (4 or 8 ohms) for the SBLs? Currently set for 8 ohms.

 

Would the forthcoming relaunch of the World Designs Pre Amp kit be a good match for use with CD and a new phono stage (could be a superline/supercap), replacing the 82?

Do you have any other suggestions for a thermionic pre?

regards,

Ian Tyldesley

Bishops Waltham

Hampshire

k5881-amp

The World Audio Design K5881 amplifier, an early gem. Tuned up it sounded lovely.

 

Hi Ian. If you revive your K5881 and tweak it then you will be up alongside our Editor, David Price, in this department, for that is what he uses too, if not full time. K5881 and all our World Audio Design amplifiers were offered as a base version tuneable for better results. They respond well to being tuned because the basic parts were good, especially our Andy Grove designed and Morite built transformers.

 

There was a lot of gain in these amps, to allow a passive volume control to be used so they could operate direct from CD or most other sources. That means you can use a Creek OBH-22 passive with remote control, a Music First Audio Classic Preamplifier (step-up transformer), a World Audio preamplifier valve preamplifier or something like a Icon Audio LA4 MkII with its lovely 6SN7s. There aren’t so many good transistor preamps., as a decent valve power amp will reveal, so be careful here.

 

creek-obh-22

A passive preamp like Creek's OBH-22 with remote control can be used with high gain valve amplifiers like K5881.

 

 

Generally, try and use a 4 Ohm tap first. Better to put a higher load on a lower tap than vice-versa; it minimises distortion. If you have or can borrow an ohm-meter (Maplins do ‘em cheap) measure resistance by putting it across the loudspeaker terminals. Expect to read around 4 Ohms, because most loudspeakers use 4 Ohm (d.c. resistance) bass units. In which case a 4 Ohm tap is the right one. If you measure 6 Ohms or more then use the 8 Ohm tap.

 

There is no big issue here, quite frankly. You get a little more power from the 8 Ohm tap when feeding an 8 Ohm load, that’s all. Sound quality changes little unless the amp is run hard. NK

 

The Musical Fidelity Primo works a treat as “a thermionic pre’, but sadly it’s monstrously expensive for us mere mortals; if you want that authentic, classic, syrupy and silky valve sound then the Primo will deliver. I find the MF Audio Classic preamplifier (in any of its various guises) also works brilliantly with the modded K5881, but with a lot less ‘bloom’. Indeed, the MF Audio/WAD pairing is quite delicious, the MF Audio having a very neutral tone that suits the WAD power amp very happily. The K5881 is quite a little music maker given half the chance, and the result is a very clean and even, but feisty and forceful sound. DP


WHAT I REALLY WANT

I wish to have a new audio system capable to break the boundaries between me and the musicians. I do not really care about the hypes of high-end; you know what they are, I do not care about fake hyper details for example. What I really want is power to recreate the musical event in my listening room. I want to turn up and up the volume control without sign of strain, without compression and without distortions, with grunt at low frequencies; yeah I want to feel the air moved by the woofers like a guitar player in front of valve Marshall stacks.

 

I have got old good memory by Linn Isobarik tri-amplified with electronic crossover and power amplifiers, and the same good feeling by Rogers LS 5/8 system with matched Quad power amplifiers. That is the sound of high fidelity for me, something capable to stand me up from the listening coach (couch?) and induce me to dance and have good times.

My personal music preferences are rock’n’roll of course, but I listen literally to all kinds of good music. Equally important is the fact that I do not want to spend an arm and a leg to achieve this goal, let us say up to 10 to 12k all included, turntable/arm/cartridge + CD player + integrated or separate amplifiers (I do not care which format) + loudspeakers and all cables. If the amplifier can manage music, from modern sources like iPod and the likes (DAB, Ethernet etc) could be definitively considered a bonus.

 

Please I would be glad to read opinion from both David and Noel. Thanks for your competent and invaluable help.

Best regards,

Lou (Cesare Augusto)


monitor-audio-pl300

Monitor Audio PL300 offers a clean, fast sound from a ribbon tweeter and C-CAM treated alloy drive units.

 

Monitor Audio PL300s get close to the Isobarik in some senses, being a loudspeaker designed to Rock. Monitor Audio introduced less expensive Gold variants at this year's Bristol Show and they may suit you too. NK

 

Hmmm... you want all this for twelve grand? I’m afraid you’re into Usher Be-10 territory for the sort of power and punch you used to get from your old tri-amp Isobarik set-up, and these cost £11,000 for starters. These are, in my view, seminal rock loudspeakers; whilst they don’t have the midband fluency of top Tannoys, they have massive scale and power and depth and precision; anything else sounds a tad too domesticated for no holds barred rock in my view. I would be tempted to purchase these and then slowly build your system around it. This could be done by purchasing secondhand, and/or in steps, but if you’re as sure as you sound that you want a ‘boundary breaking’ system then this is really the only way...

 

My plan of attack would be to buy a new Michell GyroDec SE/Tecnoarm, fit an Audio Technica AT33MC cartridge and an Icon Audio PS1.2 phono stage. This will give you a really good analogue source that’s upgradeable but not in any immediate need of upgrading. Then you’re looking at buying an Arcam rDAC and plugging it into your computer; it has the superb dCS Asynchronous USB system so will get a very stable, low-jitter digital audiostream from your PC or Mac’s USB output; it will also give your existing CD player (or whatever other digital source you have) a decent shot-in-the-arm; all for under £300. Next is amplification; as a stop gap, look at an Icon Audio 300B II integrated amplifier. Not only is this a nice smooth source for super revealing ushers, it has a bit of oomph in the bass giving a nicely ‘gutsy’ sound. There was real synergy between  this and the NS1000Ms in my system, and the NS1000Ms are similar to the Be-10s in many respects. I’m afraid this will have taken you closer to £14k than £12k, but it’s the beginnings of a stunning top end system.

 

After the Icon Audio 300B has served its time, come back to us for that all-important choice of pre and power amps; there’s a vast choice depending on your taste and how you feel you’re getting on with the system as it is. You’d also then be advised to get a Cyrus SE transport for your CDs, and upgrade the Gyro to Orbe spec, with a possible move to a high end arm; we’d be happy to advise!  DP

 

ARCAM LOCK

I have locked myself into Arcam over the years! My system consists of Arcam FMJ CD37, C31, P35 (a pair set in Mono, HF) plus 2 x P1s (Pair LF). I am using Atlas Elektra/Ichor cabling throughout the system. I have a Isotek Titan GII and a Isol-8 Powerline Axis for mains conditioning.


The speakers I am currently using are Usher Mini Dancer Two floorstanders, in a room 16ft(L) x 14ft (w) x 11ft (h). As delighted as I am with this setup, I am craving more resolution and detail, while also adding as much as possible an open/deep soundstage for my predominately Jazz based CD collection. As good as the CD37 is I am tinkering with the idea of replacing it with the likes of Krell’s new S-350A or Moon’s CD3.3, which I feel may give me these qualities as well as a tighter/deeper bass, and more defined treble for the Ushers Beryllium tweeters! I am aspiring also to replace the Mini Dancer Two’s with the Be-10 at a later stage. Currently have a budget of about £3k..........

Your guidance greatly appreciated.

Dave Walsh


electrocompaniet-emc-1up

Electrocompaniet EMC-1UP DAC has a sense of life unmatched at the price, says David.

 

I’d certainly say the Moon CD3.3 is a very worthy contender, but in terms of both outright performance and system synergy, at this price point it would have to be the Electrocompaniet EMC-1UP, which has a deeper and darker sound, along with a more robust bass and sense of life that I feel is unmatched at the price. Especially if you’re aiming towards Usher Be-10s, you want to get as fulsome sounding source component as you possibly can, and the EMC-1UP is certainly this. DP

 

REMEDY

I have a very irritating problem and would be grateful if you could suggest a remedy. When I first start up my system and start the CD player, on many occasions I get sound from only one speaker. The left speaker plays but the right hand has no sound. This problem is strange because half the time it plays perfectly normally. I have purchased and fitted new interconnects to try and fix the problem, to no avail. My system comprises Arcam CD 73, Arcam A75 amp. and Dali Lector 2 speakers.  I would be very grateful for any advice you can give.

J. Chantry

Doncaster

 

We can’t fault find at a distance, only suggest ways to track down the problem.

 

First, find whether it is only the CD player that gives one channel. If so, then the amp and loudspeakers are OK. You then need to replace the CD interconnect. If this does nothing the fault lies in the CD player and it needs repair or replacement. It could conceivably be the amplifier’s input switching, in which case plug your CD player into AUX, or any line input, even Tape. In this case the amplifier is faulty of course.

 

If the fault affects all sources then the problem lies in the amplifier or loudspeakers. Swap the loudspeaker leads around on the amplifier. If the fault stays in the same channel, then one loudspeaker is a fault. If the fault swaps channels then the amplifier is at fault. It may be the output protection relays, or input switching.

 

If a loudspeaker is intermittent like this (unlikely) try checking / replacing connections. I hope this advice gives a way to isolate the fault and have it fixed. Good luck. NK

 

DAMPING

When measuring amplifier performance, resident expert Noel Keywood routinely comments on damping factor. For example, "damping factor was surprisingly low at 16” and “damping factor was very low at 21” are comments to be found in the January 2011 issue.

 

In order to help put these comments into perspective, I hope Noel will bear with me as I define damping factor and attempt to explain its significance in sound reproduction. Noel’s superior knowledge of the subject will be required at the conclusion of my ramblings!

 

Damping factor is defined as the ratio of loudspeaker impedance to amplifier source impedance. If the amplifier source impedance is low in comparison with the loudspeaker impedance, then the low frequency resonance is brought under better control and the loudspeaker follows more closely the electrical signal from the amplifier.

In effect, the higher the damping factor, the higher the damping of the loudspeaker’s bass resonance and the higher the quality of the bass reproduction.

 

I once read (admittedly in the dim and distant past!) that damping factors in excess of 5 bring diminishing returns in terms of quality of bass reproduction. This presumption is clearly at odds with Noel’s comments!

 

Over to you Noel! How high a damping factor do you recommend, taking into account the impedance characteristics of today’s loudspeakers?

In addition, would you please enlighten me as to which aspects of amplifier design bear directly on damping factor?

Alan RJ Scott


df-diag

 

The many influences upon Damping Factor are shown here and given a typical value. The amp. here would be rated at 80, but the drive unit 'sees' just 6.

 

Hi Alan. It is impossible to be precise about this but here is a guide, based on measuring Damping Factor and then listening to the amplifier concerned, with both lightly damped and heavily damped loudspeakers. The rule of thumb value commonly used as a low / high break point is 20 and I broadly agree with this. Below 5 an amplifier quite obviously exerts little bass control and such a figure exists with Single-Ended valve amps lacking feedback. No great problem here, providing they are used with reasonably well damped loudspeakers (no bass peak), like Triangle Antals. Valve amps with feedback sit in the 5-15 Damping Factor range (with an 8 Ohm resistor). Transistor amps generally run from 20-80. Anything above 20 exerts quite good subjective control. Note that Naim amps consistently measure 17, an interesting exception.

 

Our in-house Spendor S8es loudspeakers are under damped and boom with zero feedback SE amps, but sound controlled with our grippy Musical Fidelity AMS50 amplifier.

I hope this gives you some feel for the subject.

 

I have found it is best to use a low DF amp with a well damped loudspeaker, and a high DF amp with a lightly damped loudspeaker, broadly speaking. High damping factor figures (low output impedance) are not a figure of goodness in themselves.

 

There are three damping mechanisms in a loudspeaker, the great Laurie Fincham of KEF once explained to me: acoustic, magnetic and electrical. Broadly speaking, if a loudspeaker peaks up in its bass response, as many do, then it is lightly damped. If it rolls away steadily below about 200Hz it is well damped. Note that the latter suits wall placement and explains why small/medium sized wall mounters of yore gave ‘tight bass’ when driven loud by a Naim or Linn amplifier.

 

I’m sorry it is not all a bit simpler – but it just isn’t! Feedback reduces output impedance in an amplifier, be it transistor or valve. Transistor amps can accept and also need higher feedback (to suppress distortion). NK


COMPUTER AUDIO

Many thanks for your response to my last e-mail in December's issue. I thought I would quickly update you as to what I went for.

After reviewing a number of options, I decided on purchasing a Logitech SqueezeBox Touch and a QNAP NAS. Despite some scare stories on the web and the usual niggles (there’s always a few), installation was surprisingly smooth.


The Touch has a nice user-friendly touch screen and remote, and very intuitive menus. The NAS is connected to my router so I can wirelessly download hi-res audio files from my laptop, and then afterwards stream them to the Touch without (this is very important) having to switch on the laptop. The sound is excellent through an off board DAC, although it is very good through the Touch itself.


I’m not trying to plug this system, but it represents a neat solution for my needs. I haven’t seen any sign of the Cambridge Audio NP30 to date.

Regards,

Dr Paul Harris

Whitehall

London

logitech-squeezebox-touch

A Logitech Squeezebox Touch and a QNAP Network Attached Storage device works for Dr Paul Harris.

 

I contacted Cambridge and they told me the NP30 is still not ready, but it won't be long and we will get a sample to review. So we are all waiting eagerly. NK

 

Hi Paul - good to hear all this; I too haven’t had a chance to play with the Cambridge Audio NP30 even though it’s been ‘an open secret’ for nearly a year! Looks like they missed their chance to have you as a customer! DP

 

OLD CIRCUITS

I’m looking for a two-part supplement of a MC/MM valve phono head and pre amp designed by Chris Found quite a few years ago. There was also a previous design by someone whose name I cannot recall (but he did go on to work for Audio Note UK) which I am also looking for. Can anyone help? Both circuits used ECC88s.

Regards,

Rey Bowen

 

The design by Chris Found was published in the December 1997 DIY Supplement. The person who went to work for Audionote was Andy Grove who designed a transistor phono preamp in April 1994, but also designed World Audio Design valve phono preamps such as KLPP1. You can find a DIY Supplement Index on our new website, in the Olde Worlde section.  We cannot supply DIY Supplements anymore but keep an eye on the World Design forum at www.world-designs.co.uk. NK

 

VINYL SET UP

I hope you can help me get more from my vinyl as you clearly have a great deal of knowledge in this area. I recently upgraded from a NAD 5120 to a Rega P3-24 / Elys2 with TT-PSU and whilst showing an obvious and major improvement over the NAD, I am sure I could be getting more out of it but am hampered by my ignorance of turntable setup and not knowing where I could tweak or upgrade to best effect.


I started on the hi-fi route about 25 odd years ago just as CD was taking hold. I did not have a huge collection of vinyl and it was not all in great condition, so it gathered dust for a while as I invested in CD. I bought the NAD to play some albums I couldn’t find or did not want to buy again on CD – but vinyl listening was sparse as I grew my collection of CD’s.

My system evolved over the years and now comprises Quad 99 CD-P2, Primare I30 and Spendor A5 with a Squeezebox Touch pumping FLAC into the Quad. I upgraded to the Rega because a) there was a great deal from our local dealer at the time and b) I almost never listened to the NAD.


I have always read with interest the quality that can be available from vinyl but have never heard it for myself. Within my own system the CD player has always shown better results than the vinyl equivalent but that is not surprising as some of my vinyl isn’t pristine. Both the Quad (and previously Arcam Alpha 5 plus) are great players costing much more than the TT’s in my system at the time. I have never had the opportunity to hear a really good system elsewhere so have no real reference points.


Recently I took custody of my Dad’s old vinyl collection (classical) which is much bigger and in better condition than mine and I would really like to get the most out of it. I would also be interested in buying new vinyl, especially some audiophile pressings, if I could get the system to show the benefits.


The Rega and cartridge were set up by the dealer and I am sure they were set up correctly. What I tend to find with vinyl are two main issues;

I have to really crank the amp right up to get a reasonable level of detail and presence.


The soundstage and detail lag significantly behind either CDs or FLAC files via the Quad (though a lot better than the NAD).

Sorry for the long intro. My main questions are: am I expecting too much from a outlay of £400 for the Rega setup? I have read a lot about how musical it can be but I don’t know what that is compared to? Can it be tweaked or upgraded to match or improve on the Quad? If not, what sort of spend and level of turntable will really reveal what vinyl is capable of?


I had expected (before gaining my Dad’s vinyl) that it would probably be my last turntable purchase as my original collection did not really justify any more expenditure. However – if it is capable of showing the benefits of upgrades such as cartridges etc, then I would be happy to explore those. Any advice on upgrades that the turntable and my amp and speakers are capable of benefiting from would be very gratefully received.


In particular I have wondered if the phono stage is letting the side down. I am using a Project Phono Box II because this was “thrown in” as part of the deal when I made my amp and speaker upgrade. Is this why I need to crank up the amp so much to hear any detail or is that just an inherent problem with vinyl?


I would be particularly interested in your advice in this area and where the level of budget would be that you start to reach diminishing returns because the turntable or the rest of the system cannot deliver the benefits promised by phono amps at that sort of money. I have no problem with spending more on tweaking the machine than the original cost if it and my system are capable of showing a good return on the investment – I just need help on what is possible and where to look.


I particularly enjoy a lush, full sound. I like detail but not cold and analytical detail – I would rather sacrifice that for an involving and musical presentation. I listen to a wide range of music from rock to blues, jazz and classical with the odd brass band thrown in for good measure.

Many thanks,

Andrew Greensted

quad-qc-24-preamp

For a big, lush valve sound and oodles of gain, get a Quad QC24P phono stage.

 

Hi Andrew. Your Rega P3-24 is a fine machine and will take you a long way. The Elys 2 isn’t so great however, and the Project Phono Box II is, as you suspect, also holding performance back, because it is a budget product. Low gain in this device is responsible for your need to turn volume right up when using LP.

 

A quick and easy fix is swapping the Elys 2 for a Goldring 1022 GX and then upgrading the phono stage to – if you can afford it – a Quad QC24P valve phono stage. Now I know this is disproportionately expensive at £1200 but have a listen if you can. Otherwise, get an ANT Audio Kora 3T or, stepping down a lot further, a Lehmann Black Cube. The Quad will give you the sound you want though and amaze you with its sound. This is the one to go for, even though it is a stretch. NK


QUARTER BACK DAC

I’m in the middle of my latest round of upgrades, the 4th since I bought a Marantz/Kenwood/JBL system costing about £1k after working all the way through my first summer at university in the late eighties.  My last round of upgrades had left with me with an Arcam FMJ set up (CD, amp and power amp) bi-amped to a pair of Pro-Ac studio 125s.  I should point out I have done the necessary in sorting out the infra-structure too with a Quadraspire stand and a Kimber loom (with Russ Andrews power blocks, cords and filters).

I lived happily with this for about six years, but over the last couple of years have started upgrading again.  My first purchase was the Chord QBD76 DAC which made an unbelievable difference to the system; a stunning improvement to clarity, stereo imaging and sheer musicality.  It made me realise how much more music was stored on those little silver discs!

 

Upgrade two was to the speakers. Out went the ProAcs to be replaced by a pair of Monitor Audio PL100s.  These again have cleaned things up and have added a whole new layer of music at the top end thanks to their amazing ribbon tweeters.  The improvements at the bottom end aren’t so stunning but the 200s weren’t available at the time and the 300s were too big for our room (and my wife’s tolerance!).  A possible further upgrade to these may complete this round but not yet!

 

Changing my integrated amp for a dedicated pre-amp would seem to be the next logical step (especially as I’ve kept the ProAcs and this would allow me to use the “old” stuff as a second system in my office).  I’ve been coveting a nuforce p9 ever since I read David’s review of it, although your recent review of the Music First Audio Silver Mk II has made me rethink things. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to easily audition these as there are no local dealers who stock either.

 

My question though is a more fundamental one.  As I only use digital sources and am never likely to do anything different; my Chord DAC is used as the device to switch between different inputs (currently my CD player and my Wadia i dock).  My current amp and my future pre-amp is therefore simply a volume control!  As I was planning to then change my power amp to a pair of nuforce ref 9 SEs or similar I wondered whether there was another option.  Do I actually need a pre-amp if I only need a volume control, or is there a better way of me spending what will be about £6k on amplification for my system?

 

Another interesting question and possibly a good future group test is how much improvement to this system will I get in adding a dedicated CD transport instead of the integrated Arcam.  I suspect quite a bit.  If so, how much better will a Cyrus XT SE be?  And how much better again would a Chord Blu or something even exotic from Wadia, Esoteric or dCs be?  Traditional logic always said invest in the main source, but is that the transport or the DAC in a digital system?

 

Your thoughts would be gratefully appreciated

Best wishes

Danny Brown

Wirral, UK


chord-qbd76-dac

Chord Electronics QBD76 - a high quality DAC with superb sound.

 

You are right in suspecting a silver disc system does not need a preamp. Also, it is better off without it I feel, although not everyone agrees. All silver disc players: CD, DVD and Blu-ray produce 2V output and all power amps, except a few like the big Electrocompaniets, need 1V for full output, so there is gain to spare. I was bowled over by the Music First Audio Classic transformer preamp and feel you should consider a unit like this for the superb Chord QBD76 DAC. You can buy without audition here because it is so neutrally perfect and sweet.

 

As the Monitor Audios are on the bright side I would suggest a Creek Destiny amplifier. I know it seems underpriced but it has a beautifully easy, almost lush sound that is quite unlike a typical transistor amplifier. Otherwise, try and listen to a Naim. These again are clean and smooth, as well as muscular. NK

 

Sorry to be a bore, but the MF Audio, even in its cheapest copper guise, is superb; I’d say it’s a good way ahead of the NuForce P9 (which itself is very fine). As such, if cost is no object, go for this. The alternative is the Creek passive, which is decent and cheap, but no substitute for the MF Audio. You could even make your own, by buying the best Alps 50k Ohm potentiometer you can find, shove it in a Perspex box and wire it to phono sockets with silver wire; cost is about £40! You won’t be disappointed by the NuForce Ref 9 SEs; they drive PL100s very well, although do look for a smooth, dark speaker cable like Black Rhodium’s Tango. The Cyrus CD XT SE is an excellent transport, as good as many of the Japanese high end designs, but at only £1,000 or so; I’d strongly recommend this a partner for your excellent Chord DAC and personally wouldn’t bother with the matching Chord transport (sorry Chord!) unless you crave its opulent look and feel. DP

 

E-BAY TILL I DIE

It is very edifying when one of your favourite pieces of kit is recommended by a fellow reader. The product I refer to is the Technics SL10 record player, although there is some confusion with the previous letter (John Drew, Melbourne, Australia) when reference is made to  Consonance Tone arm and Accuphase cartridge upgrades? This turntable does not have a replaceable tone arm as it is a parallel tracker with a very short arm. The SL10 also has a P mount cartridge arrangement which to my knowledge is not available on any manufactured by Accuphase ? However I can say that this is one of the best, if not THE best record spinners I have owned and believe me I have had many, including, Linn Sondek, Rega, Garrard, Lenco, Rotel, B&O, Michell.

 

My first foray into parallel trackers was a Beogram 4004 followed by a Technics SL5 which I picked up dumped in a skip! I instantly had a preference for the SL5 which was quite a revelation considering its ‘plasticky’ build and feel. What is a testament to its build quality was the fact that it had come from a skip, undamaged (except for a few cosmetic scratches) and with its original cartridge in place. The deck was basically dusted off, plugged in and played. No mistracking, no distortion, just a rock solid, refined sound with great bass and treble response. I had a similar skip experience many years ago with a Goldring Lenco GL75, which at the time blew away my Rega Planar 3. I guess these finds are a pretty rare occurrence but for it to happen twice is good fortune indeed.

 

I purchased the SL10 on ebay. I saw it advertised and did a quick online search to find out as much info as I could. The reviews were very good and stated that this was a much more refined and higher quality deck than the SL5, being of cast aluminium construction instead of the plastic. It also has a record clamp arrangement, built in MC step up transformer and a MC cartridge fitted as standard. Unfortunately the cartridge arrived minus its cantilever and stylus which was a major disappointment as you can imagine. Fortunately I did have a brand new P mount Goldring  Electra (MM) cartridge which I had bought by mistake thinking it was a standard head shell fitting. I love this deck and cartridge combo and the Electra is a stunning cartridge for peanuts, around £45. I now feel at the ripe old age of 60 that this will be my final resting ground as far as vinyl replay is concerned. I will however take vinyl to my grave with me, although it will be a mighty heavy coffin to bear.

 

Just a note to finish on. At last year’s audio show at Milton Keynes I purchased a Musical Fidelity M1 DAC which is fantastic, and it has renewed my somewhat previously tarnished faith in the silver disc. If you are using a middle of the road CD player as I am (Rotel RCD-1070) then this external DAC will transform it, or anything similar, into a £2k player. Also useful is the USB input which enables me to hook up my laptop and play decent music from my Windows Media files. Thanks to Zouch Audio for their advice on this.

My current system, if you are not already bored to death, is as follows; aforementioned CD and DAC, Rotel RC-1070 control amp with two bridged RB-971 power amps, Mission 753 speakers, Nordost speaker cables, Wireworld interconnects and of course my Technics SL10 turntable. Buy one if you can.

 

By the way, I make no apologies for being an avid eBayer. I know that we are frowned upon by some audiophiles. All the above are from ebay sellers, and a fine bunch of people we are. We provide a ready market for buying bespoke hi-fi gear, which should give heart to those fortunate enough to afford new kit because there are people out here that will eventually buy their unwanted items, usually at better prices than trade in allowances.

Long live vinyl, ebay and the world of hi-fi!

Best Regards,

Graham Cavill,

Sheffield,

South Yorkshire.


technics-sl10

Technics SL10 Direct Drive turntable. "Buy one if you can" says Graham Cavill.

 

Hi Graham - I’d echo your sentiments about the SL-10. I bought mine for £40, and although currently awaiting a service from Vantage Audio, is a lovely performer. I’m not sure if I’d say it was better than a Linn (et al.) but it’s still a great music maker in its own right and a testament to the brilliance of Japanese micro-electronics (and mechanics)!

 

Likewise, I think the Musical Fidelity M1 is a superb bit of kit; it’s only really comprehensively bettered by the £1,000 plus DACs, and even then it’s not a profound improvement. I love its sheer value for money; only the Arcam rDAC approaches it in this way; sonically the two are close, but the Arcam has a slightly richer, fuller sound but with less detail, insight and treble finesse. Only if the Asynchronous USB facility was of real importance (and it will be to many) would I take the Arcam over the MF, or if I had an obviously tonally bright system.

 

As for eBay, many readers I meet seem to think that I’m somehow anti it. Well, having bought and sold hundreds of hi-fi separates over the years (for the Olde Worldes), I’m certainly not! But I must point out that it’s no substitute for trying before you buy. Kind of like buying clothes on eBay, you can get some apparently superb bargains, but you just don’t know if they’re going to fit till you try. Ditto hi-fi; you might have picked up a classic for a song, but is it going to sound good in your system? It’s a bit hit and miss, if you see what I mean? Given that many people upgrade in this way, that’s fair enough. But if you’re not into fiddling around for year after year and just want to listen to your music, going to a dealer and buying new might just be better value, and more rewarding. There’s also the point to make that some sellers seem to think that “mint condition” means its only fallen off the sideboard once; I prefer buying ‘in the flesh’ where your eyes and ears decide, not other people’s imaginations! DP


 

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