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May 2011 issue - Page 2

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May 2011 issue
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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



 

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