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May 2011 issue - Page 5

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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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