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June 2011 issue

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June 2011 issue
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World Mail    June 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.

 


kill-to-get-crimson-lp

A recent Mark Knopfler wonder, the 'Kill To Get Crimson'  LP has superb sound quality.

 

GREAT LP SOUND

As an avid record collector, I’ve been thinking about the varying quality of recordings in general and how useful it would be to have some kind of guide to a particular recording and its sound quality. As the replay quality of my hi-fi increased, I found that so did the differences between good and bad recordings – to the point now where I try to limit my listening to the best quality recordings.

 

Yes, I know it should be all about the music, but my serious listening is through headphones and any bad recordings are brutally exposed so I leave the bad recordings to my laptop system which doesn’t highlight them so much.

 

For example, I bought The Cure’s 1989 LP ‘Disintegration’ when it came out, and on my old Hitachi stack system it sounded okay, but having played it recently on my Voyd / SME IV / Audio Note IQ3 / Pure Sound P10 / Sugden HeadMaster / Grado SR225s, the LP is just about unlistenable. The sound is shrill and compressed. I was tempted to buy a recently remastered version on vinyl but David’s idea that the original issue being best sounding is spot on and matches my experiences, so I couldn’t see how a remastered version would sound any better than the original.

 

Anyway, I digress. What would be really useful would be to know which recordings sound great. Perhaps readers could pitch in with their top ten recordings and over a period of time you could build up a database. I know it’s all subjective, but I’m working on the basic assumption that your readers know a good recording from a bad one.

 

To kick off then, here are some of my top recommended recordings based on sound quality (in no particular order):

 

Beatles – Abbey Road (first pressing) – a wonderful recording, deep deep lows, sweet highs, and a great soundstage.

Jean Michel Jarre – The Concerts in China – forget surround sound, this stereo mix will have you wondering where you hid those rear speakers.

Pink Floyd – The Wall – awesome dynamics and sound effects, plus great music of course.

Dire Straits – Love Over Gold – Worth buying purely for Telegraph Road and Private Investigations – a masterful recording.

Peter Gabriel – So / Us – forget the expensive Quiex reissues, they don’t sound any better than the originals.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue – I have the Quiex reissue, which is awesome.

Roxy Music – Avalon – a superb recording, just dripping with

atmosphere.

Jacques Loussier – Plays Bach (number 3) – simple trio, well recorded.

Radiohead – In Rainbows – Nude is particularly special.

Depeche Mode – Violator – a seminal album and an amazing recording given it was 1990, when most pop recordings were awful.

Kraftwerk – Tour De France – most Kraftwerk stuff is recorded well, but this is special.

The Cure – Faith – great recording, pity things went downhill later on.

 

And the ones to avoid? Don’t get me started !!!

Laurence Robertson

 

Thanks for that list Laurence. I recognise and own many of them and agree with you about sound quality. I regularly spin the recent ‘Kill to Get Crimson’ LP from Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and it is another utterly superb transcription. Eleanor McEvoy LPs are also something special you will find. It’s great when musicians are into and properly understand the issues behind sound quality: the final result is heaven. NK

 

Great idea, Laurence. Watch this space for more on the difference between various vinyl pressings of the same album... DP

 

WARMTH NEEDED

I’m hoping you can give me some advice regarding the most suitable cartridge that will be compatible with my system. I am using an Origin Live Sovereign turntable together with a Conqueror Mk 3 arm. The cartridge at present is a new Denon DL304. The phono stage is the Icon Audio PS3 upgraded with Jensen capacitors and NOS valves. I also use Mastersound 845 Final Monoblocks with a mastersound Line In Preamp, Wilson Benesch Chimera Loudspeakers with MIT Terminator Cables; all other interconnects are pure Silver. My CD Source is a McIntosh 1000 with the 1000 DAC.

I know my speakers are very revealing and at times a little forward with the treble so I’m looking for a cartridge with a warm presentation. I would appreciate any suggestions that you might have.

Peter Amor

ortofon-cadenza-black

Ortofon Cadenza Black lacks brightness or treble emphasis.

 

 

Hi Peter. Very few cartridges have a warm sound; most are the opposite: too bright. An old classic with a warm sound is Shure’s M97 xE, but it is a design from yesteryear that is a little bland by today’s standards. The only other cartridge that approaches a warm sound is Ortofon's Cadenza Black moving coil and this appears to be the best solution in the context of your system, albeit an expensive one. The Cadenza Black with Icon Audio PS3 phono stage are made for each other though, especially with those ‘dark’ sounding Jensen capacitors. NK

 

I'd counsel the Dynavector DV17D3 (£750); you don't specify your budget but I'd think this is the sort of sum you'd have in mind judging by the rest of your system. If you can spend twice this or more, then think about the Koetsu Red series. Both these Japanese cartridges are beautifully artisan made transducers with a 'classic' sound that's on the fruity side with a warm and rich tonality; they're not super forensic excavators of detail but are very musically satisfying all the same. The Koetsu adds just a touch more life and a certain romantic quality that's completely unknown elsewhere in the moving coil world. DP

 

mf-tri-vista-21-dac

Musical Fidelity's Trivista 21 responded well to being tuned, says Dave Mayer.

 

TRI BEFORE YOU BUY

I would like to respond to the somewhat pointless comments contained in your April issues ‘letter of the month’. You kindly published my own original letter earlier this year (Re: upgraded Tri-Vista DAC21 etc). I think that ‘Frankie’ has missed the point and has got rather wrapped up in his own beliefs.


First things first. I can only speak as I find and the sound coming from my current system (including the brilliant upgraded Tri-vista DAC) is absolutely truly wonderful. I’m 44 years of age and first stepped into the minefield called hi-fi at 16 when I spent pretty much all that I had (£100) in Richer Sounds, Stockport, on a Sanyo/Wharfedale/Rotel set up. So for 28 years I’ve been desperately trying to reach a point where I think “wow – that sounds perfect”.


I’m at that point now. The final parts of my hi-fi jigsaw came in the shape of the heavily modified TRI -VISTA 21 done by JS Audio. I’m no electronics engineer and no hi-fi guru, I’m not an expert and I’m no boffin, but to these ears (and those of my over critical and cynical wife) it really sounds outstanding. It has also got even sweeter since the mods were carried out late last year.


Frankie did make a valid point regarding the type of ‘sound’ that I was after, but here the blame lies with me and not JS Audio. I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in the first place. However when I expressed disappointment in what they had done, (it wasn’t crap or worse than the original, it was just different and not to my taste) they pushed me much more on what I was after, what exactly I was looking for. I asked for a really detailed sound, erring towards analytical even, but also with the big soundstage advocated by Frankie and obviously on his ‘wish list’. And that is exactly what I got back. To be honest, it was better than I could have imagined, right from the first few hours of use I was amazed by the detail coming through.


To respond to Frankie’s comment about liking the original Tri-vista’s sound, then the answer is “yes I did”. I thought it was superb, but as my original letter stated, the unit had become faulty and needed repairing, hence the reason for contacting J.S. Audio. The opportunity to upgrade and to build on its strengths was born out of its need to be repaired first and foremost.

Good sound is subjective though. A friend of mine who owned and ran a Linn dealership for 20 years until last year listened to my system recently. He commented that he found the sound incredibly detailed and analytical but that he didn’t particularly like it. He knows me pretty well and I have purchased from him on many occasions, and he said that he knew it was the sound that he’d always known me to want. But as I’d talked with him and discussed hi-fi with him for over 15 years then he’s well placed to judge my requirements and preferences. So if he could have ‘tailor made’ a system for me to fulfil these priorities then my current system is what he would have recommended... he knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for.


The fact that J.S Audio did it after two conversations and two sessions with my Tri-vista to me is nothing short of remarkable, I think that they worked wonders.

As we always say, and read hundreds of times in magazines including this one, if it sounds good to you then it is good ... simple as that.

What I know for sure is that since the Tri-vista was modified I’ve never been happier and so impressed by what I hear. Also, for the first time in over 20 years I don’t feel the need to change anything; I really think that I’m where I want to be with the sound, it ticks every single box.


So I still maintain my comments in my original letter, don't always look to upgrade to brand new boxes of electronics. Before doing so take a look at what you have and look at the component upgrade opportunity that may be available. Google is brilliant for this!

Dave Mayer

 

Couldn't agree more Dave; you're spot on! DP

 

CABLE COMMENT

In the January issue a reader wrote expressing his ‘displeasure’ with the emphasis on cables, interconnects, etc. Without letting my feelings be known on the subject, I’d like to propose a theory for the said reader, as follows – at some point the hi-fi industry ran out of things to flog, so home theatre was invented to make more sales and then when the market for that dried up something else was needed to ‘keep them coming into the stores’... voila high-end cables, power conditioners, etc.

 

Nowadays there are very few stores that sell hi-fi equipment, at least on this side of the pond. Two decades ago there were many. The general public is into MP3, iPods, etc., mostly using music as a background to do other things, but not really listening.

Joe Wdowiak

Canada

 

van-den-hul-the-valley

Cables were needed to 'keep them coming into the stores', says Joe Wdowiak.

 

That’s a bit uncharitable Joe!  Cables interest people, especially those who have changed them and heard the difference and been surprised by it. Those who have not done this by-and-large remain sceptical, and I understand why, although because we cannot explain something does not mean it doesn’t exist – but I won’t get into this yet again!

 

It isn’t only hi-fi that has gone down the drain but a lot of the music business too. Big studios like Olympic have disappeared and even Abbey Road is struggling. The whole landscape has changed and I am not certain why. Digital portables and downloadable music synchronised to their use – notably iTunes – are not the only reason people do not listen at home seriously. Leisure time habits have changed and this is reflected in buying priorities. It’s a fickle world! NK

 

Hmmm... I think that's a little unfair Joe. It's easy to poke fun at the cable industry, because it's so amazingly variable, not short of hype and in many cases rather ridiculously presented to the outside world (the nineties fad for day-glo purple and green interconnects didn't help, methinks!), but the fact remains – to anyone who's bothered to audition a wide variety – that cables do make a difference. Notice that I say 'difference' and not 'improvement'; sometimes they can make things worse, and at others they can vastly boost your system's sound. It's all a case of which ones you choose; this is why we do review them and try to describe their respective sound. Of course, it's very system dependent, so our reviews have to be an entry point into your cable buying odyssey and not a universal proclamation. DP


QUAD CLASSIC

In your last magazine I found your “World Standard” listing and I can say that I agree with you because I have One Thing Audio ESL-57 loudspeakers and Furutech Gold IEC inlets and Furutech Carbon/Gold binding posts, and it was really worth it. I also painted it as a classical look but in a contemporary style. Now I am making an oak/stone stand for my Quad ESL 2905 speakers, which I use with stax SR007 electrostatic earspeakers and a Magnum Dynalab MD-100T tuner, also mentioned in your magazine. In an office I have an Arcam Solo Mini with Arcam amplifier.


I want to ask you kindly for help about Quad ESL 989 and Magnepan 20.1. In my country, frankly speaking, it is like mission impossible. Last time for one week I gave ESL57 to one hi-fi shop to show them how something can do this.

Grzegorz Janta

Poland


quad-esl57

Quad founder Peter Walker on his most famous product, the ESL-57 electrostatic loudspeakers of Grzegorz Janta in Poland.

 

 

I love your ESL-57 Peter Walker tribute Quads. It is the first time I have seen a picture of the company’s founder on his most famous product. Very nice. NK

 

I haven't heard Magnepan 20.1s, so can't comment on these, but I know the Quad ESL989s to be excellent loudspeakers; albeit flawed by their slightly rickety cabinets which aren't as rigid as they should be. The later 2905s addressed this problem, while the earlier 57s and 63s are a lot smaller and so less susceptible to cabinet flex anyway. But I still think the best Quad electrostatics I've ever heard are the One Thing ESL57s; there's something unique about these that I've not heard elsewhere, although the 2805s come closest. They're just so clean and fast and open and powerful and even in a way that you simply can't hear from almost all other loudspeakers. DP

 

MANGLED CASSETTE

Having a big sort out during a house move, I discovered a load of my cassettes. I haven’t had a player for ages, but I could not bring myself to throw the tapes away. So I resolved to seek out a secondhand one, with the specific capability of making a decent fist of playing back the pre-recorded cassettes I bought as a teenager in the 1980s. I might even get some blank tape and give recording a go for the fun of it one day.


So anyways, I purchased a second hand NAD 613 from a local second hand shop specialising in hi-fi. In my set up it sounds a treat, at least with the tapes that I have had success with playing. The best of my pre-recordeds sound open, lively and fairly present and “outside of the system”. The rest of the system is Rega P5/Goldring 1042/Creek OBH-15 vinyl front end, Rega Apollo CD player, Rega Mira 3 amp and Rega R3 speakers. In this context, pre-recordeds are never going to match my records and non-loudness war CDs, but the cassette source is no disgrace, despite (or perhaps because of) it being a basic, no superfluous features deck. It is further confirmation for me that digital downloads et al are just plain wrong.


However, it is the worst of the pre-recorded tapes that I am writing to ask for your advice about. Funnily, I can pinpoint the problems to one label – EMI. In the 80s they used a system called XDR which was supposed to tighten up quality of duplication. They had a series of bleeps at the beginning and end of each tape, and according to Wikipedia they used 1” tape to make copies from. Indeed the signal on these is healthier than other pre-recordeds – almost up to the standard I got when I used to make recordings onto blank tapes as a student.


The thing is... they don’t jam as such, but most of them play okay for a few moments, then I get extreme flutter, then wow, then they sound really mangled and they stop playing! They will fast forward and rewind OK. The uneven speed of playing will occur if I try again, but in a different place from where it first occurred. As I say this is almost always with XDR cassettes but some non-XDR EMIs will do the same. (I also tried them on a Sony machine with the same results – except that the Sony sounded worse, even with the good pre-recordeds I have).


This is a shame because I have many Beatles albums on tape. Although I have them on LP – and my Rega P5/Goldring 1042 plays them rather stonkingly, it would be nice to have working versions of the tape editions! And it is these that were re-issued on XDR cassette when the first CD issues of the albums appeared.

Is there something I can do to rescue them, short of transplanting them to other shells – something that sounds rather time consuming and messy. And too difficult for my butter fingers.


Also, it would be lovely to have a few features in your magazine devoted to cassettes. I think it is David who doesn’t need to be convinced of their worth, and maybe he could do an article about classic decks (would my NAD appear?) and cassette care in general. He could investigate the availability of blank cassettes these days. And maybe even a few comparisons with modern gear would show up the strengths and weaknesses of both. File compression codecs may be a controversial subject these days, especially with those who want to either download albums or archive LPs and tapes, but back in the day it was noise reduction methods. What are your opinions on Dolby NR, for example? Is it best kept turned off, or are there certain decks that do not make a total pig’s ear of decoding it? The truth is out there!

Hopefully you can advise with my tape problems and perhaps run a cassette feature!

Mark Pearce,


nad-613

NAD 613 cassette deck "sounds a treat" says Mark Pearce.

 

Hi Mark. As you suspect this problem is attributable to the cassette shell, or C-zero as it was called. It would appear that EMI used a poor shell. The usual remedy is to wind the cassette fully forward and then fully backward. This realigns the tape inside, eliminating the ridging that builds up with continual stop/starts. You may have to do it a few times.

If this doesn’t work then the tape would have to be transferred to a new and better shell, but as you say this is a big hassle. And quality shells are likely hard to find nowadays, NK

 

If you need to transplant the tape, best buy brand new cassettes with screw shells; most of the currently available new tapes like TDK Ds no longer have screw shells, but the last batch of TDK SAs I bought (last year) still did; at just 85p a pop for a C90 they're a bargain, although in truth I don't think the shells on these latest SAs are as good as the ones fitted to SAs some ten to fifteen years ago; they're still well worth experimenting with, though! Check out www.totalblankmedia.com. We'll certainly be keeping our cassette coverage going, don't worry... DP

tdk-cassette

Buy TDK SA cassettes with screw shells, says David, so they can be opened.

 

 

BACK

After an absence of some ten years or so I am once more a subscriber and eagerly look forward to my copy dropping through the letter box each month. As you may have surmised my return coincides with the aim of upgrading my current system. My set up consists of Linn LP12/ Circus/ Lingo/ Ittok and Ortofon MC25fl. A Trichord Dino feeds my Sugden A48b amplifier (circa 1993) and speakers are Castle Pembrokes. Speaker cable is Linn K20. I recently had the Linn rebuilt by Peter Swain at Cymbiosis of Leicester and would recommend him to any Linn owner.

 

I do feel a little out of touch and would appreciate some help. My own feelings are that the Sugden may be the place to start. I have always liked the sound of the Sugden and considered a straight swap for one of their newer models, the Mystro being the obvious choice, Or would the A21a be the one to look at? Noel’s recent review of the Creek Destiny 2 certainly interested me as well. Naim amps I don’t like. Budget is around £1,500 to £2,000.  With the right record my system is really enjoyable to listen to but with another recording splashy and muddled highs spoil things. Any and all advice welcome. My listening room is small, about 11 by 9 feet and I listen to classic rock and blues with a touch of folk and occasional Bob Marley.  Any help would be greatly appreciated. Really enjoying the mag and glad to be back!

Steve Chapman

 

The Ortofon MC25FL and Trichord Dino phono stage are a bit off the pace by today’s standards. As good as the Ortofon was under measurement, its sound was always a disappointment, being somewhat lifeless and one dimensional. The Dino is good but would do the cartridge no favours in this respect.

 

Things are hotting up in the budget Moving Coil market. The Benz Micro Ace we reviewed last month is a cracker Tony Bolton loved and Ortofon have just introduced the Vivo, reviewed by Tony in this issue. An Icon Audio PS1 phono stage would improve stage depth too.

 

The new Creek Destiny 2 was one of the best solid-state amplifiers I have ever heard, no less! You just have to bear in mind here that I judged it from a valve amp perspective and loved its sumptuous, but clean sound, free from the coldness or glare of most transistor amplifiers. Creek are in my experience alone in getting such a sound from transistors, but then Mike Creek has been at it a long time and is more than a little talented and experienced in the field. The Destiny 2 is fabulous if you want a big, lusty sound that doesn’t shout and I recommend you hear it. NK


creek-destiny-2amp

Creek Destiny 2 amplifier is one of the best, says Noel.

 

I think you've got to try to audition the amps for yourself, Steve. This is because they all have quite different sounds; the latest A21 S2 is icily clear and amazingly detailed, with a silvery treble that you just don't get from Class AB amplifiers, no matter how good. It's an amazingly incisive tool, but sometimes too much so for some tastes. What amazed me was the Mystro, which is a little smoother, more diffuse and slightly deeper in tone, yet amazingly bouncy and fun to listen to in a way which the A21 simply is not! I think it comes down to music taste here; rock and jazz fans would probably go for the Mystro, whereas classical lovers would definitely want the A21. The Creek I think is more musically lucid and tonally inviting than both, but less intricately detailed than either; this is why an audition in the context of your own system (or at least speakers) is the right thing to do. DP

 

CABLE CONTROVERSY

In last month’s Letters page you discussed the complicated issue of how cables carry electrical energy. It’s fair enough to say you don’t know how it works but please don’t then give room to any of the fringe wacko notions! The ether is a bogus concept from the days before modern electrical engineering allowed us to build excellent audio equipment!

The confusion here is due to the fact that all electrical energy is carried by current flowing in conductors, but all current creates an associated electro-magnetic field: you can’t have one without the other. But the field does not normally transmit the power – that’s why copper wires are so essential. Next time your car battery gets a bit dodgy, just try telling the AA man that the wires don’t matter; it can flow through space not wires!

 

Of course there are exceptions where electro-magnetic circuits are specially engineered to transfer power, as in motors and transformers, but even then conductors are essential components to channel, transmit and recover the energy.

 

Like many Hi-Fi World readers, I have heard definitive demonstrations at audio shows where a high-end outfit was played with and without special cables. Even mains cables, for goodness sake! How can a mains cable possibly affect the quality of a flat DC supply from a top-notch power supply? Many of us will also have heard the naysayers (often engineers) protesting loudly that no difference is possible from a few metres of 13-amp lead, while others (myself included!) believe they did hear an audible difference.

 

Well, it is high time this controversy was properly put to the (scientific) test. We could do this quite easily with modern equipment. First, we need to find a friendly electronics lab with an audio spectrogram instrument. Then we run the high-end kit with and without the cables in question and compare the two sonic spectra produced. If we really did hear that extra bit of definition on the guitar chords, or a few more notes from the accompanying second fiddle, then they will be detected in the spectrograph. Note that we are testing the total system, so it is what comes out of the speakers that is being compared; we won’t know how the difference is being produced but we will know if and what kind of difference really exists. As DP says, we can’t measure cables directly in sonic terms, but we can measure a sonic change due to a single cable switch.

 

Should this test prove that the cables do indeed have a sonic effect then we will have concrete evidence. Furthermore the engineers can then begin to probe the audio system and eliminate items until the cause is properly understood.

Mark Lee

 

Thanks Mark. The usual way of doing this is to compare the input signal to the output signal and see if there is a difference. There are difficulties though. Spectrum analysers have their own limitations and they show only one time domain slice. Averaging over a period of time helps here. It is doubtful, however, that time delayed information or non-linearity would be picked up by such tests. Modern analysers, including our own Rohde & Schwarz UPL, can subtract one input from another and look at the difference between the two and this may well reveal differences, but then such differences must be related to sound quality and this is another hurdle. All-in-all, some quite serious test methodologies and equipment must be used. I remain forever uncertain about such matters, having set up Peter Walker’s test for amplifier sound quality in the past, convinced myself the amp under test sounded just like the piece if wire to which it was compared, and then heard precisely the opposite later! NK


UPSIDE-DOWN UNDER!

I thought David might get a chuckle from the editor’s lead in piece in the current issue of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. It would seem that one man’s piece of ground breaking design creativity is another man’s obsolescence.


By the way, I would like to finally take the opportunity to congratulate you all on a great magazine. I have been hooked since 2003 and can thank you over this time for the purchase of my cherished Gyro SE and the dusting off of my 1990s Luxman tape deck. Yes, I know it's all Alpine on the inside but it still delivers a wonderful sound, especially to taped live broadcasts on A.B.C. classic F.M. The only catch is that I can’t purchase TDK SA 90s in Oz any longer, and to make matters worse cannot seem to purchase online overseas and actually get them to ship to Australia?!?!


I have had to resort to getting a mate in Shrewsbury to buy some and post them over on the sly (very sneaky!). Anyway, keep up the good work. And keep up the references to Aussie bands in the equipment reviews (Icehouse, Empire of the Sun etc.).

Phil Rigby

Australia

 

Greg Borrowman of Australian Hi-Fi says – “ Why in 2011 would you want to buy a cassette Walkman? In Australia, where almost everyone has access to a computer, owns a mobile phone, has a solid-state MP3 player of one sort or another and MP3 recorders are inexpensive there would seem to be no reason at all. However, in less-developed countries, perhaps there are some reasons to prefer old-fashioned tape over solid-state. But I can’t think of any. If you can, e-mail me at –  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Er, yes, thanks for that Phil. In spite of its sins, cassette tape was enjoyable and if you ran a Nakamichi with metal tape and Dolby B, results could be superb. Mr Borrowman sees the whole thing from a different perspective of course – and hardly a hi-fi one.

 

Over on this side of the globe tape is making a comeback as a convenient analogue sound source at hi-fi shows in particular, where anything digital is beginning to be viewed with suspicion, as if it was diseased! Musicians in particular seem to be reverting back to analogue open reel recording, where high speed tape can give devastating results. At last year’s High End Show in Munich there were many Revox open reel recorders in use I noted. Cassette is of course way down the food chain (pity about Elcaset) but it can still sound good. A full bodied comeback is unlikely methinks. NK

nakamichi-dragon

A reminder of the pinnacle cassette reached: Nakamichi's Dragon recorder.

 

Well my retort to Greg, who apparently 'can't think of a reason' for using cassette', is sound quality. I've reviewed most of the modern 'MP3' portables, and I simply don't think any of them sound as good as, say, a Sony WM22. I bought one in 1986 from Boots for £30 and they're on eBay for half that now (they often turn up in car boot sales for a pound), and it comfortably outperforms any solid-state player, even running WAV files. The point is of course that the recordings you play on it must be to a high standard, and the deck itself must be in good condition with its head and transport clean; so cassette may not be as convenient but it's certainly better sounding!

 

I'm a big fan of Aussie bands like Icehouse, The Go-Betweens and latterly Empire of the Sun, Phil, but I do draw the line at Men at Work! By the way, you're not 'our Paul's' long lost Aussie brother are you? DP

 

CUPBOARD

After 25 years of hiding in the cupboard and gathering dust (the turntable that is, not me!) I decided to reinstate my old turntable. The latter being a 35 year old Technics SL-1500 Direct Drive with Stanton 681EEE cartridge. I have no idea how my turntable compares with the current offerings: is it still any good? The Stanton has seen better days so I will have to buy a new cartridge, can you perhaps recommend some that will be a good match with the Technics?


By the way, I do intend to purchase a new turntable in the future when my funds permit. I’m considering a more upmarket player costing somewhere between €2,000 and €2,500 (excluding cartridge). My preference is for a high mass table. I guess I should be able to find a decent turntable for that kind of money...


The record deck has been stored away for all that time, but the rest of my equipment went through various upgrade stages. I no longer have a transistor amplifier with integrated phono stage but since 2 years I’m the proud (and very happy) owner of an integrated PSE triode 300B valve amplifier. However, this does not have a phono input which means I now have to start looking for an outboard phono stage.


How important is the role of a phono stage compared to the recordplayer, tonearm and cartridge? Is it equally important or less or even more? Can you recommend some likely candidates I might investigate, taken into account that these will also have to work with the new record player I was talking about previously. I’d rather buy a good quality one now than buying a cheap(er) phono stage first and later have to upgrade to a better one. I’m thinking of spending around €1,500, perhaps stretching to €2,000 if something really good comes along. Other equipment I use are my WAD WD25T speakers with the Seas Excel tweeters (very good sounding) and the new Icon Audio CDX1 CD player with Jensen copper foil caps. Yes, I’m totally into tubes nowadays! Thanks in advance for any advice you’re willing to offer.

Ben van Baaren

Netherlands

 

That’s funny Ben. You have an Icon Audio CDX1 CD player but you seem to have missed our continual praise of their PS3 valve phono stage! A pickup cartridge produces a very weak signal and the subsequent phono stage has a big impact upon sound quality. An Icon Audio PS3 or even a tuned up PS3 with Jensen paper-in-oil capacitors is the one to go for, although there are solid-state alternatives with a less sumptuous and organic presentation, but more concise sense of analysis, transistor style; Whest Audio and ANT come to mind. As you are a happy chappy with a Parallel Single Ended 300B tube amplifier though, I suspect valves are the way to go.

 

On the subject of the Technics, it is best to rip its arm off(!), install something decent and laugh at all else as you spin your way into the sunset. Raphael Todes was almost apologetic the other day about what he heard from an SL-1200 so modded; he could hardly believe it sounded so good. The Technics has a clean, tidy and well ordered sound I recall. With a decent modern arm, often a modded Rega, it is 'a cracker', as we say in the UK. NK


originlivesilver3ctonearm

Fit an Origin Live Silver arm to a Technics SL-1500 turntable, says David.

 

I agree with Noel; before spending vast sums on a new deck, consider fitting a new arm (a £600 Origin Live Silver is a good place to start) and of course cartridge (ditto the Benz Micro Ace). This will bring a far tighter and more focused sound with tremendous life and grip. Add a Timestep PSU (www.timestep-distribution.co.uk) for extra smoothness and musicality, and a SDS Isoplatmat for a deeper bass and silkier treble. DP

 

QUEL AGE EST-IL?

I am a regular reader of Hi-Fi World from France, a magazine that I well appreciate since the disappearing of the French one 'La Nouvelle Revue du Son'. I own a pair of pristine Wharfedale 400 CR3/2 crossovers that a very old audiophile offered to me. Can anyone among your contributors tell me the age of these items, and in what system were they used?

E. Brousseaud

France


wharfedale-crossovercr400

 

Wharfedale crossover from the days of its founder Gilbert Briggs.

 

This crossover is similar to that published in Briggs ‘Loudspeakers’ book in the crossover section, labeled N.W.9 except that the low frequency crossover is at 400Hz, not 800Hz as published (Briggs lowered the crossover frequency as he found it gave better results when speakers were used for stereo). Wharfedale produced such crossovers for the home constructor and the level controls on the midrange and treble outputs allow the user to balance the performance for their own choice of drive units.

 

For example, in the same book Briggs describes a 3-way corner reflex system using a 12 inch or 15 inch bass unit, an 8 inch or 10 inch midrange and a 3 inch cone treble unit. Similarly the Wharfedale W4 speaker described in ‘More About Loudspeakers’ used a 12 inch bass unit, two 5 inch midrange units and a 3 inch treble unit with crossover frequencies of 400Hz and 5kHz.

Best wishes,

Peter Comeau

Director of Acoustic Design

IAG Group Ltd, China


CONSULTING THE ORACLE

Dear David – I have been looking for some alternative speakers to my Quad ESL63s for a while now, since, as much as I love them, they won’t really rock ‘n roll, will they?

Recently, I was offered some Yamaha NS1000Ms by a friend of mine who used them for a couple of years and then put them in dry storage for the following 30. They’re in absolutely mint condition and still have the swing tags on the back of the cabinets describing what they’re made of! I was able to listen to them in my system before buying, so it was a no-brainer. I just plonked them down on some sturdy boxes (since I didn’t have any low stands), next to the Quads, hooked them up with some wire which came with them (Sony Speaker Cord - Made in Japan !) and sat back.

 

Now I finally understand what you’ve been banging on about all these years! With zero tweaking, and virtually ad hoc placement they sounded really very good, but since all the info out there on the blogs is entirely contradictory (amp has to be monster solid state – no! – valve. Free-space siting – no! – wall siting, etc. and ad infinitum), and since you’re the only journalist to have actually owned and used them as a reference, I thought I’d come to the Oracle, so to speak, with a few questions of my own.

Do you use them in free-space (I seem to recall a photo of them like that on tall stands in your listening room that World published some time back, or am I going mad?)? Have you tried them against a “hard wall”, as recommended in the manual?

 

Have you replaced the spring clips on the back with proper binding posts, and if so, which? Would it affect resale values? If not, what unterminated cable would you recommend (ideally, I would prefer to fit post so that I can keep with the Van den Hul Revelation that’s currently on the Quads, or some Kimber 8TC that I have, both terminated with banana plugs)? Of all the amps that you’ve tested with them, do you have favourites (valve and solid state) that had particular synergy?

 

Have you upgraded the crossovers or the internal wiring as some bloggers seem to have done? If so, what did you use, as the capacitors seem to have been specially made for them? Is it as difficult as some suggest? Apart from putting them on proper stands, are there any other tweaks or advice?

 

Noel, you’ll be pleased to know that I won’t be retiring the Quads (restored by Quad, with 'pro' grilles, One Thing mains cables and Widgets, on dedicated stands), which sound fabulous on the end of my Chord 1200B. I intend using the Yam’s as an alternative, unless I can tweak them to a point where they’re unequivocally better, which I think might just be possible with a bit of work. Largely, I suspect, due to the naff thirty-year-old cabling (which, out of interest, I also tried on the 63s, and all the magic I get with the Van den Huls disappeared) and maybe room position, they’re not currently as fast as the Quads, especially on bass transients (where they have more level but less extension in my 21’x23’ room), and do not “groove” as much (a real surprise, that one!), with less tonal discrimination between different stringed instruments. Even as things stand, however, they’re almost as transparent, image even tighter with better depth perspective, and are 'lustier' in general, which is just what I was looking for. After all, they’re going to be playing Led Zeppelin, not Bert Jansch!

 

All advice gratefully received, and thanks for a great mag, with the best Letters Section in the business.

Ross


quad-esl63-china

Quad ESL-63 electrostatic loudspeaker - great but flawed all the same.

 

 

You want to get rid of your ESL-63s? Oh, I feel faint – pass the smelling salts James!

 

And replace them with something from Japan fitted with spring clip connectors. Do you see men in white coats walking up your garden path?

 

Well, truth is they're not perfect; I soon started surgery on mine and in the end there was little left. The cloth ‘sock’ then the louvered outer metal grill were removed first. I did not remove the dust covers, but some do. The protection circuits had to be upgraded of course, getting rid of the ‘compressor’ that just muddled the sound. Then I designed a crossover to match them into a Celestion SL6000 dipole subwoofer, ending up with one of the world’s biggest and most awesome dipole loudspeakers, the Celestions reaching right down to 5Hz the spectrum analyser showed. Few amps could drive them properly though, one problem, and a reviewer’s life demands constant changing of equipment, which was a little impractical with ESL-63s atop SL6000s. I could hardly lift the latter.

 

In the end this set up had to go, but I regret losing it. Box loudspeakers will forever sound like box loudspeakers, for that’s the nature of the beast. When designing big WAD loudspeakers, like KLS3 and KLS9 I would put my head into the bass unit cutout and shout “hello” or make noises into the box (the men in white coats gave up on me long ago!). What returned was a vivid lesson in the true sound of a box loudspeaker – i.e. what we are really listening to with these things – and I have never taken them seriously since. There is no cabinet that will not return sound at you, this sound exits via the cone, in most cases adding that nice, big warm thrum. That’s why, when you listen to an open panel for a while, long enough to acclimatise to its differences, then go back to the box you will immediately hear the box. It’s influence will be rudely obvious, well for about 30 minutes or so. After that you will likely re-adjust back to its own peculiar character.

 

All the same good box loudspeakers are great fun and perhaps we must leave it at that. A Martin Logan X-Stat electrostatic panel atop a Tannoy Westminster Royal SE handling bass duties may be the way to go.

 

I will leave David to talk about your spring clip adorned wonder! NK


yamaha-ns1000m

The Yamaha NS1000M loudspeaker - a brilliant design from Japan. It needs careful matching, says David.

 

Hi Ross, glad to see you now know what I've been rabbiting on about all these years! The short answer is that I am keeping my NS1000Ms as original as possible, thank you very much. Quite why a few blokes on forums with a soldering iron and the Radiospares catalogue are suddenly better crossover designers than the entire audio engineering personnel of Yamaha (a company famous for its exquisite musical instruments, lest we forget; their logo is of course a tuning fork), plus the collected best brains of Tokyo University (who did a lot of the drive unit development, reputedly), is beyond me...

 

I am sure it is possible to do better than Yamaha on the crossovers, it's just I think you'd need someone who seriously knows what they're doing and has access to the very best, possibly custom made, passive componentry, plus a lot of time. Even then, the results may simply be different, rather than better. Either way, I don't think the "oh, I'll just solder this fancy cap in and see what happens" approach is likely to succeed. Think of it like this; I am sure someone could set up a Porsche 911 better than the factory spec, but it's not going to be someone with no test track and just a Halfords Advantage Card for good luck, is it? For this reason, I don't want to hack around my rear terminals either; personally if I was you I wouldn't be thinking about resale values (why would you want to sell them?), but you don't want to start playing around with the cabinets. Why not use bare wire? In all instances, bare wire is better than banana plugs; there's one less thing in the way of the signal, after all!

 

What you really need to concern yourself about is placement. My stands are made by Custom Design; I am sure they can supply the exact same stands (to the dimensions I specified to them); the right stands make a massive difference. I run mine 20cm from the rear wall; you're right, they do sound better against solid walls. The other thing to do is to periodically tighten the drive unit's screws up on the baffles, as these can work loose over time and they begin to smear the sound slightly.

I've tried umpteen amps and the best non-silly money solid-state for them to my ears is the Musical Fidelity AMS35i. I also know the Icon Audio 845s to be a superb partner, and funnily enough there was a real synergy with the humble Icon Audio Stereo 300B integrated which sounds sweet and fulsome. My own valve amp is the World Audio Design K5881 (modded), which sounds sublime, although this runs out of puff in my new larger listening room. I use the really rather modest Black Rhodium Tango cables; these are smooth and open and stable.

 

Keep experimenting, is what I'd counsel with the NS1000Ms; they're like a finely tuned racing car which rewards careful set up (although I'll pass on tampering with the engine)! What I love about them is that they can sound so dramatically different; put a smooth, sumptuous front end on them and they're all rich and fruity; put a thin, searing one on and they're precisely this. It's the mark of a true monitor loudspeaker, and why they were incredibly popular in recording studios in the seventies and eighties. DP


TALK RADIO

I have a view to offer on DAB and a tricky question about my system.

 

I was listening to R4 this morning (on LW - so there!) and yet another carefully managed ‘discussion’ about the replacement of FM with the DAB system. I am sick of hearing the rehearsed P.R. line presented in this way – aunty Beeb patiently patronising licence fee payers with explanations as to why we should do as we are told and be grateful for the cost, the awful reception, poor sound and general contempt in which we are held.

 

That’s the thing that gets me – being lied to and cheated by unelected, unaccountable and seemingly incompetent members of the executive. Perhaps others have noticed how, since Thatcher, most of the actions of governments have involved redirecting public money into private pockets and DAB is just another way of doing this. Licence fee payers are being told to accept a huge reduction in BBC broadcast quality and to bear all the costs of providing infrastructure meant primarily for private radio stations.

 

The BBC Trust would have us believe this is all to do with choice, but by subsidising competitors by the back door it is undermining the Beeb's own radio service, no doubt with a view to eventual privatisation and fat cats feasting at our expense. I often wonder what the Advertising Standards view of claims like ‘CD - quality sound’ would have been, if promoted by a commercial organisation?

 

Now my hi-fi predicament. For years my system has been based around a classic (in some ways) combination; Thorens TD160S (Akito/1042), JVC JAS11 and Wharfedale E70s/ or my own standmounts (D2905/ Peerless CSC176, 90dB and very nice indeed). Cambridge CD4 transport, Dacmagic 3 and a Sony MDS JE500 recorder. Currently lacking FM (!), but I have that covered.

 

I was in audio heaven with all this – not high end, but in some ways surprisingly close (synergy), but then the amp's input selector finally collapsed. No music – hell! I couldn’t bear it, so I drove to Richer Sounds and got a Topaz AM10 as a slot-in stop gap. The JVC was an amazing little amp – Hi-Fi Answers best budget buy for years and actually way better than that suggests. Okay, the phono stage was a bit clangy with poorly mixed records (not on good ones) but that came with life like tonality, projective imaging, firecracker dynamics and amazing grip and drive. That’s why I chose it over the A60 I auditioned it against and kept it after trying a NAD 3020 in my system (yes the NAD’s phonostage is better).

 

In fact, a significant upgrade was always going to be expensive so it never happened. I have neighbours and the JVC sounded lovely whispering into the (95dB!) E70s at normal volumes, but would get all feisty and muscular at a certain point on the volume knob. The Topaz can’t do any of that, obviously, and so what to do?

My question is this: given that, apart from the phono stage, there are no active components before the JVC’s 250K volume pot and the main board has a handy ‘main in’ (L, R and common) could I use it as a power amp (I can do the wiring) and drive it with an OBH-22?

 

The deck deserves a decent equaliser. I am thinking of a second hand XLPs. Cash is in short supply, but I can’t put up with Kate Bush sounding like Minnie Mouse! I need your advice.

Mark


wharfedale-e70

A wild loudspeaker that worked - Wharfedale's E70, still used by Mark. Paper drive units with massive sensitivity made it Rock.

 

 

Hi Mark. Yes, in principle you can use it as a power amp in the way you suggest and this makes a lot of sense in your case. The OBH-22 can be used to input select and adjust volume. Just butcher a phono interconnect and patch it onto the board or – better – connect the board up to one of the now unused phono input socket pairs. Remember to disconnect the JVC volume control or it will load your input stages unnecessarily. You can of course then get a Creek phono stage for playing LP. NK

 

TIME FOR A CHANGE

After reading the latest issue from Hi-Fi World Towers, I thought a thought provoking letter might just help change the current format of the mag. As a renewed subscriber now for two and a half years it’s all beginning to look the same every month: turntable reviews – best of batch of (amps/preamps/etc) reviews all given 4/5 globes/stars, even though there are some comments that would definitely remove them from my list of suspects.

 

There are new technologies out there. I am of course talking about music streaming and storage of CDs/ Downloads/ LPs on HDs  (yes, I know Noel they do fail, but nowadays they are pretty reliable, more so than many esoteric amps/preamps (I have owned them all)! In any case, you can easily back the HD up onto a QNAP in raid 5 mode for example. Now just in case you think I am a computer (audio) nerd (and I may be)! I am nearly seventy years old, design and build valve amps (211/845/50/2A3/45), etc. And hearing and sight are still better than the average teenager (although that may not be saying much).

 

This new technology is the way forward, so embrace it. Why is it the way forward? Because it allows something that other approaches do not: instant retrieval of sorted albums. Instant playing and storing of downloads (e.g. Wolfgang’s Vault). a la iPod/mp3/4 etc. I haven't bought a CD in two years and judging by the falling rate of CD purchases nor have the public at large.

 

There is a vast new subject here. Please add it to your reviews and talk points, Coverage to date in all mags has been spotty to say the least. We (wife and self) are musicians and go to many concerts so comparison between live and recorded music is frequent (many times I prefer recorded). I have a couple of (good) systems (Kondo inspired 211 monoblocks/ Martin Logan ‘speakers/ NAS Hyperdeck/ SME V/ Helikon) and an all-Leema set up (the only solid-state equipment I have been able to more than live with), comprising Pyxis/Agena/Altair 1Vs/Xanda 11s/RipNAS/Mac mini/QNAP/Sim Moon/Accustic Arts. If set up correctly it’s difficult to hear the differences between a download/ CD/ ripped CD/ and Vinyl. Yes, I know in some houses this may seem like blasphemy, but your mag could help define this newish source by being an early adopter and leader. Please think about varying the mag's content and its time to drop the globes/stars rating: they are meaningless.

Ian


naim-unitiserve

 

Naim Unitiserve music server will be reviewed by us soon, as well as the QATMS-5.

 

 

We do cover this topic and we intend to do more as it grows in popularity. Digital storage and downloading is much about compatibilities and menus, less about sound quality, as you have found, although I don’t know how you can find vinyl to sound like downloads; they are radically different in behaviour and sound quality.

And Raid Array storage strategy is hardly a hi-fi topic Ian; it may interest you but I doubt it will appeal to Hi-Fi World readers.

 

The issue of Globe ratings is contentious, so let me explain. There is far more equipment available for review than we have space for in the magazine. Paper is expensive and its price only increases. As a result we actively select products of at-least reasonable ability for review, not wanting to waste paper and space with negative coverage. We could easily include more dubious product and spice things up a bit, but that would then deny space and coverage to items worthy of mention – and there are many out there. It is our job to find them.

 

Most difficult to cope with at our end is the amount of product we reject either because it is faulty, or for poor performance. For example we had a beautifully built and finished panel wall loudspeakers in for review recently, price a lofty £1,200. When measured frequency response was absurd, so they were sent back. Then a pair of active loudspeakers started issuing smoke – the first time I have ever seen smoke from loudspeakers under review! Three tuners were tested before one worked (their lab generator had gone wonky), three amplifiers blew up (bad board batch from Taiwan) and three DACs from Korea failed to work (they had to withdraw them).

 

I could not tell you how many speakers we reject as unreviewable because they sound and measure badly; it is quite shocking and is a gruesome waste of time for us. At least three products per month are rejected, after considerable test work. Magazines that don’t test don’t suffer this turmoil of course. It gets worse when an argument starts with a manufacturer who insists their product works well, as some attempt to do – then the waste of time spins out of control. We would rather deal with competent manufacturers who produce decent products and bring these to your attention, than get involved with the deluded end of the industry, which seems to be growing. That, broadly speaking, is why we do not have many low Globe ratings ...

 

On “comments that would definitely remove them (review product) from my list of suspects”, we quite often find questionable characteristics, but these have to be balanced against strengths. The final verdict then becomes personal. The Pearl Evo Ballerina 401s are a good example in this issue; their domes are unusual and provide quite a dramatic presentation, but I have heard smoother loudspeakers. Some would love ‘em, others hate ‘em I suspect. They’re certainly worth reviewing though.

 

We try and provide readers with an honest and well researched basic view. This contrasts, for example, with most of today’s audio websites where there is no measurement and just one person’s opinion – often a eulogy – of a product that commonly reads like it is closely linked to the manufacturer (we have been offered ‘independent reviews’ like this but do not use them).

 

Borderline products, like the good and bad LFT-16 loudspeakers I am reviewing at this very minute, will probably go on our website in future. It was recently revised for this purpose, as well as to support the magazine. Go to http://www.hi-fiworld.co.uk / loudspeakers / reviews. It consumes less paper! NK

 

MAGIC DUST

“This player [the CD 50T] seems to sprinkle its valve magic dust on everything, leaving everything sounding as if it’s had magic dust sprinkled on it” (page 49, March 2011).

This is from the magazine that claims “to ensure the upmost accuracy” (well, you mean utmost, but never mind) because of test equipment that is “amongst the most advanced in the world”, so that “you can depend on Hi-Fi World reviews”. Perhaps you’d provide a technical explanation for “magic dust”.

Tony Williams

 

Hi Tony. Our Rohde & Schwarz UPL analyser said the “the primary spectral content was determined by the time domain Hanning windowing function imposed on the Fast Fourier Transform” (in German) so we've decided to use the term Magic Dust instead as this means just as much. Hope this helps! NK


 
Comments (1)
WM22
1Thursday, 02 February 2012 21:25
John Miller
Got to agree with the comment about the WM22 Walkman. I happened across mine just yesterday along with my old box of tapes. Most of the tapes were recorded from an 80's Marantz CD player or a Dual 505 II turntable with an AIWA deck (can't remember what) onto a variety of chrome/metal tapes (Maxell and TDK) with Dolby C.

I popped in a couple of batteries, my modern day headphones and a tape I haven't listened to in at least 15 years. WOW! I am astonished. The vinyl-to-tape recordings sound remarkable. I also tried it in my car and my desktop speakers at work. It really gives my Walkman mp3 player a run for its money. Granted the listening conditions are a bif iffy but it is meant for portable use after all.

Flutter is a bit high but I haven't cleaned the transport path just yet.

I'm all excited now.


Great - keep it running! OK cassette players are museum pieces, but what a great sound - until the tape wraps around the capstan etc. Oh well! NK

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