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August 2011 Issue

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World Mail    August 2011 issue        

 

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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.

 


maple-speaker-stands

Focal 907 Be loudspeakers on stands built by Jeff Sharratt - very nice too!

 

ELECTRA-FYING

I took the opportunity to purchase a pair of Limited Edition Focal JM Lab Electra 907 Be standmount speakers a few years ago, as a starting point for a new hi-fi system. At the time, funds were not available to buy an amplifier and CD player that would realise the full potential of the speakers. So I bought a budget model, knowing that I would be upgrading at a later date and opted for a Marantz PM7001 integrated amplifier and a Marantz SA7001 CD player at about £350 each. Although the amp and CD player were quite good for items of their type and price, I realised at the time they were an inadequate match. The quality of the speakers with their beryllium tweeters really exposes their inadequacies, particularly with higher frequency vocals and violin etc, where the sound can sometimes be quite harsh.


I have quite eclectic taste, but the majority of my listening is classical music such as symphonies, opera and piano. Plus soul and jazz vocals from time to time. I am now looking for a substantial upgrade to the system and plan to do it in two stages, with a budget of approximately £6000 being spent on the amplifier first.


The second stage, to buy a new source, will then require a lot more thought. Do I buy another CD player of similar quality to the amplifier, or do I wait a little longer to see how things evolve with such equipment as music servers etc? Would it be a good time to change to something like a high end music server and will I be able to achieve the same sound quality as with a CD player? Is this possible with the equipment available at present? From what I read, we appear to be on the cusp of new technical innovations and new models being brought to the market, which if things follow the usual trend will result in better quality sound reproduction, more choice and more competition. Do you have any inside knowledge, of what equipment of this type we might see in the next 12 months?


My listening room is not very large at 4.45m x 3.85m x 2.36m high with an irregular shape to one corner, plus solid concrete floor. Hence my reasoning to keep the Focal standmounts, which would probably cost in the region of £2600, to replace with a similar model such as the Focal 1008 Be.


The speaker stands are some I designed and made myself from solid maple, veneered MDF, polished stainless steel inlays and granite plinths. The tapered centre column is hollow and although I have not done this yet, they could be filled with heavy ballast such as lead shot, which would give an approximate weight of 30kg for each stand. Do you think this is worth doing and if so, what effect is it liable to have?


I would prefer an integrated amplifier and have an open mind as to whether this would be valves or solid-state, although my instinct is to go with solid-state for reasons of hassle free use. I have had four suggestions from various dealers, all different. One recommended something from the Sugden range such as the A21SE, or a Sugden Masterclass IA-4. One recommended the Musical Fidelity AMS35i amp and the last dealer recommended a single ended triode, with 845 valves. Four different amplifiers, with common similarities, they are all integrated amps that operate in full Class A, with a similar output of around 30 to 35 watts. However, that’s where the similarities end.


We all know it’s just not that simple and in the context of use with my Focal speakers and medium listening volumes, I would welcome your unbiased opinion on these Class A amps, their available headroom and suitability for Symphonic music with its wide dynamic range, as I was already thinking that Class A amplification might be the right way to go.

I would appreciate your opinion on the equipment mentioned above and suggestions for an upgrading path.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Jeff Sharratt

Lancashire

 

The clever match is that single-ended amplifier with 845 valves. Focal loudspeakers are quite challenging up top; I find the tweeter a bit hard and remorseless; it isn’t on my list of favourites. A single-ended 845 amplifier of good pedigree should complement it nicely though and as the Focal is sensitive, limited power output is unlikely to be an issue. You don’t say what its power is, but aim for 20 Watts minimum and hope for up to 40 Watts, for classical music played at reasonable volume. I suggest you ask for a demo. You may care to take a peek at an Almarro amplifier, using the spectacular 6C33C cold-war transmitter valves, as they sound lovely. Methinks you have nice listening times ahead. NK


almarro-318b-valveamp

A smooth sounding single-ended Class A valve amplifier like this Almarro 318B would suit Focal loudspeakers nicely.

 

Hi Jeff - the writing is on the wall; CD players are on their way out. I am not saying they’ll have gone the way of the Dodo within a year or two, but prepare yourself for only a small range of hi-fi designs on sale new in five years from now. Many of us will have migrated to networked audio, most of us I suspect starting off by playing the music on our PCs or Macs, and then getting a Network Attached Storage device (i.e. fancy hard drive) which sits in the cupboard under our stairs and silently gets on with the job of delivering our digital media. I suspect these will be massive 50TB (or similar) capacity solid-state devices, and will also house most of our DVD collections too.

 

The short answer about sound quality, right now, is no. Pound for pound, a high quality transport (such as Cyrus’s CD XT SE) feeding a DAC sounds better than a hard disk based music server. However, there are some very, very good ones, such as the Naim HDX and so if you want to go to this sort of product, the Naim is the one I’d recommend. Alternatively, if you don’t want a built-in hard drive and prefer to play out via a networked computer, then you should look at either the Naim NDX or the Linn DS range; I haven’t heard the NDX yet but I’d say the Linn Klimax DS, all £11,900 of it, is the best sounding network music player I’ve ever heard, by a large margin. It also has real 24/96 functionality, and is now very easy to use. Back in the real world, and the £1,200 Musical Fidelity Clic is a great mid-price hi-fi design. DP


naim-hdx

Naim HDX offers good sound from hard disk, says David.

 

iPOD WAV

Am I missing something here? Adam Smith reviews the Wadia i170/152 in the April issue but apparently omits specifying the type of files he is playing on his borrowed iPod. He merely calls them ‘exciting hi-resolution musical delights’. Those of us who use WAV files on our iPod Classics would be very happy to know (and probably, so would the good folks at Wadia) that the test was not undertaken with less than full WAV or AIFF files, because why would an average Joe who listens to freely downloaded MP3s (which cannot be called music at all in my opinion) buy one of these expensive Wadia sets? How realistic would such a test be if they were used to play AAC, so called Apple lossless (oh yeah), or MP3 files? How would one hear the Wadias at their best in such circumstances?

 

Actually, as a ‘serious student of music’ I would also quibble with Adam’s sweeping conclusion as to ‘how mediocre the little Apple sounds when played via its internal digital convertor and headphone output’. Yes, it’s not a great DAC, but horses for courses, and while I would never put such a signal through my Naim/SF Cremona system because it would lose so much musically, I have had enormous pleasure with a pair of good quality Sennheiser on-ear noise reduction cans to the point of really thrilling reproduction, because of the amazing bandwidth of the Sennheisers and the proximity of the astoundingly good drive units in them. During a flight or in bed at night I have had some wonderful listening moments. And this bearing in mind that I play my vinyl on a fully loaded Brinkmann turntable, so my ears are not faulty.

 

Garbage in, garbage out, as Saint Ivor used to say! Give the iPod some great WAV files and a good set of cans and you can really startle people. I get sick of Apple and others calling the iPod ‘an MP3 player’. On a 160GB iPod you can load a lot of fine music in WAV format.

All the best,

Kingsley Flint,

Switzerland

 

apple-ipod-classic

Load WAV files onto an iPod and "you can really startle people" says Kingsley Flint.

 

Kingsley, my apologies for the oversight in the review and I am happy to confirm that the borrowed iPod was indeed full of WAV files as the owner is very particular about such things and refuses to listen to anything lesser! In the rare event that I carry out any digitisation of my own music I also use WAV because, as you rightly say, AAC and MP3 just don’t cut it in audiophile terms.

 

As to my comments with regard to the iPod’s sonics, I stand by them. Yes, with a decent set of earphones and the aforementioned WAV files, the results for on-the-move listening are surprisingly capable, however I was still surprised at how a twenty-odd year old portable CD player still managed to better it. You also say yourself that you would not use your iPod through your main system and neither would I – it’s all down to expectation and limitations. As a convenient portable music player, the iPod performs well with a little care, but I still maintain that as a high quality digital source for a main system, it falls rather short, even when played through a highly capable dock like the Wadia.

 

Finally, I do know where you’re coming from with regard to the expression “MP3 player”. It seems that the phrase has entered the world’s vocabulary in the same way that we all ‘hoover’ our carpets, even though we’re more likely to be using a Dyson these days; and I am becoming rather tired of being sneered at by the anti-4x4 brigade for driving a ‘Jeep’, even though mine definitely has a Land Rover badge on the front! AS

 

If you’re pleased with your iPod sound, I suggest you spend £15 on a good, lightly used Sony Walkman on eBay and a couple of ageing prerecorded cassettes. This will soon change your mind! iPods sound awful; I’ve reviewed almost every one since 2003, plus most of their commercial rivals, and I am afraid they compare poorly. More worryingly, they’ve got worse, particularly so in the past three or four years. My 2005 Mini sounds better than my 2007 Nano, which sounds better than my 2009 Classic, etc...

 

I am a big Apple fan (I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro) but I simply don’t buy any argument about iPods sounding good – if you think they sound good you need to see what else is available; try Sony’s 32GB flash memory powered NWZ-A846 for starters. iPods have two real strengths; first is the convenience (which is great but not exceptional anymore) and second are the peripherals; you can now get a number of devices to give them direct digital output, which at last makes them listenable through real hi-fi systems. But for those who think this is a major triumph of modern technology, it’s worth pointing out that most Sony portable CD players and MiniDiscs had this feature twenty years ago. DP

 

MASTER BLASTER?

I have just discovered a fabulous vintage CD player, which blows my Resolution Audio Opus 21 into the weeds... Currently it is playing “The Corrs” and Andrea is definitely in my bedroom singing! It can’t be a recording....

 

I am referring to a Panasonic RX-DT610 which also has twin cassette decks and is a ghetto blaster type with battery operation, which I have not tried, but no doubt going to. DC will be even better if that is possible. Every scrap of information, every nuance, every guitar string plucked is there, with space around the instruments and so much information is pulled of the disc, i am stunned. Doing some research it is a 1 bit, 4 DAC with 32 x oversampling, with “MASH”. Just how good were these early Panasonic models? Were they ever reviewed? Or ignored in favour of the Technics models.

 

It has two RCA CD outputs on the back, which i have got transparent cables plugged in, which powers 2 x Cyrus Mono X’s with pre amp and PSXR running with QED XT 400 speaker cable onto Dynaudio Contour 3.0 speakers with the much celebrated Esoteric tweeter. The Panasonic bass unit is now on my hi-fi rack, and sits on two pieces of wood, then two pieces of polystyrene (it works) to get that last bit of performance out of it.

 

So, my question is did Panasonic do hi-fi separates? And were the Technics CD separates sound that good? It would be wonderful to see what you think, gonna sell my Resolution Audio now...

Thank you for such a great magazine

Best regards,

Tim Harrison

 

panasonic-dmp-bd45eb

Panasonic have made hi-fi in the past and continue today with products like the DMP-BD45 Blu-ray we tested in our October 2010 issue.

 

Panasonic was simply a brand name of Matsushita, as was/is Technics. In the nineteen seventies, Technics was actually sold alongside Panasonic separates in hi-fi shops, and they had parallel ranges. Technics was the ‘premium’ brand to the good but plain Panasonic, a sort of Audi to the VW that was Panasonic. So it’s very, very likely that the Panasonic will have a Technics CD player inside, so to speak. I’d guess this would be a 1-bit MASH type DAC that they used throughout the nineties, but before this I think they did do some 18bit, 8 times oversampling machines if I remember rightly. Either way, try to find the vintage of your ghettoblaster and buy a Technics CD player from that same generation from eBay; I doubt if you’ll pay more than £50. That might give you that magical sound you love so much? Personally, I don’t think the Technics CD players were that special – they were very ‘Japanese’ sounding, which means ‘crash, bang, wallop’! But each unto their own… DP



 

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