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June 2011 issue - Page 2

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June 2011 issue
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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



 
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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