World Mail August 2011 issue
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.
Focal 907 Be loudspeakers on stands built by Jeff Sharratt - very nice too!
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.
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
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 offers good sound from hard disk, says David.
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,
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
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
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
CLEAN SHEET DESIGNS
I’ve come to the conclusion: cleaning signal connections with pure alcohol (which was popular in the past) or the myriad other quite expensive cleaners available on the market today, is a waste of time. Well, I have never noticed an improvement in definition, clarity, tighter bottom end, clearer highs, more air, soundstage, imaging, and other descriptive wording we all read about, after laboriously cleaning all of my cable ends and amp sockets. There has been barely a black mark seen on the cloth and cotton bud after cleaning them all and there are plenty of them. I would love to hear of other readers comments regarding this.
I recently had mains cables (plus XLRs) made for me by a relatively new company, Custom Hi-Fi Cables, in Yorkshire, to replace the bog-standard ones supplied with all equipment. They have made a remarkable improvement to the sound and I cannot recommend these cables highly enough; they have been one of the most significant upgrades I have ever made a big call, I know. So, my advice is to think decent cables before changing anything else.
I have my room on a separate circuit and the stereo is also on its own circuit feeding wall sockets for most of the equipment; other gear runs from a good-quality power board. So, I am quite serious about giving the system a decent start. However, if the cleaning of cables/sockets did make a noticeable difference to me then, of course, I would clean them as is necessary, as I feel I have purchased some nice gear over the years and would want to maintain the resultant sound through good maintenance.
Please feel free to give me your assessment of the equipment and any changes you feel could be made: Bryston 4B-ST power amp and BP-25 preamp with MPS-1 power supply using XLRs; Musical Fidelity X-Ray V3 CD as transport (QED digital coax to X-Dac), plus all the other V3 X-Series equipment (with four upgraded power spikes to the PSU): X-Dac, X-Can headphone amp, X-PSU, X-LPS phono stage, X-10 tube buffer (I love this piece of gear) (I have two of these, one for the CD and the other for the Project RPM 5.1 with Ortofon 2M Blue I have just got back into vinyl); Denon 2910 for DVDs; Sennheiser 650 and HD 250 Linear II headphones; Magneplanar MG-IIIa speakers with rear wave attenuators (highly recommended, as opposed to those ficus trees! - I don't like to use those horrible supplied resistors, either) and using Nordost Blue Heaven jumpers from the crossover box; also Magneplanar MG-1.6/QR speakers (with no attenuation) using upgraded jumpers for the bi-wire terminals.
I love both of these pairs of speakers, so I swap them around from time to time. Speaker cables and interconnects are of the same make and are custom-made. The room is carpeted with a tile border and is 24ft x 16ft with 12ft raked ceilings, huge beams and is acoustically fine, only using foam in the corners where wall meets ceiling this helps with imaging; no other room treatment is necessary. The speakers fire down the long side and are approx. 4ft from the back and side walls, 5ft 6in apart with the ribbons on the inside.
I have had big thumpers (Celestion 66, old Jensen 15-inchers) in the past, but I have foregone the brutish bass and high efficiency for more finesse and accuracy with the panels these days.
Now, to my question. It is regarding the Bryston gear. Although I love the Canadian hardware and it sounds very good to me (and can happily live with it), I feel that a little more warmth could be instilled in the system, as it is all a bit clinical now that my preference is for the panels good, but clinical. The Musical Fidelity gear with its tubes adds warmth, but I was wondering whether a tube power amp would be an improvement over the Bryston. Should the Bryston preamp also be replaced? Can you suggest a suitable high-powered tube amp or monoblocks which could fit the bill, as the 4 Ohm Maggies do like a heap of power? My test sheet on the Bryston 4B is 290W a side into 8 Ohms (approx. 500W into 4), so I wouldn’t want any less power. I know it is a personal choice which road I take, but I would value your opinion.
Thank you for your magazine, especially the mail pages. Keep up the great standard.
The astonishing Audio Research 610T monoblock power amplifier stands nearly 2ft tall and weighs 77kgs. It produces 600 Watts from sixteen 6550s operating in push-ull pairs - see them on top!
I’m sorry to be critical Nick, but neither Bryston nor Magneplanar have ever quite floated my boat. Brystons are very much ‘studio practice’, powerful, dry and rather remorseless. Irrespective, you cannot easily get 290 Watts per channel from a valve amplifier to match them unless it comes from Audio Research who stack 6550s eight deep a side to get required power from their 610T monoblock monster for example, a Mack truck of tube amps
You likely will not be using anywhere near 290 Watts into the Maggies since such power would reduce them to piles of ash. A pair of Quad II-eightys are excellent high power valve amps if you like to keep it simple but elegant. Their 90W output is sufficient to drive the Maggies very loud, without destroying them.
Moving upward power wise brings us into 211 and 845 territory, with an amp like our in-house benchmark Icon Audio MB845 MkII producing 120 Watts per channel. Such amplifiers are expensive though.
Maggies can be improved upon. To be specific, try to get to hear an Eminent Technology LFT-08b if you can. As magnetic planar loudspeakers go it is one of the best. You will recognise its sound but find it an improvement I believe. NK
A more affordable alternative to a Magneplanar is Eminent Technology's LFT-08b.
I’m hoping you can help me with a dilemma. I have a six month old baby son who is now mobile and interested in everything, including my ‘speakers and hi-fi! Whilst we will try to teach him that the hi-fi is a no go area I suspect that this is not likely to be 100% successful and once he is a toddler and starts to have equally boisterous friends round the lure of the kit might be too much! Obviously, safety is paramount and I am particularly concerned with the possibility of my stand mount speakers being toppled. Space does not currently permit a dedicated listening room so the hi-fi is in the lounge.
My kit consists of a Project Xpression turntable, Cyrus CDXT SE/DAC-X transport and DAC with PSX-Rs, Sugden Masterclass IA4 integrated amp and Focal Electra 1007BE speakers. I have a large music collection spanning Rock, Indie and Americana and listening is split 80/20 in favour of CD. After some initial problems with the brightness of the sound I opted to upgrade my amplification and purchased the Sugden second hand. I now have a powerful, smooth sound that is very clear and detailed with a natural tone. I am able to enjoy music regardless of recording quality and the system is not fatiguing. These days I generally find myself listening at night once the baby is asleep and the system works well at low volumes.
I can see a couple of options to make things safer without sacrificing sound quality and would be grateful for your opinion on them or for any other ideas you may have:
1. Replace the standmount speakers with some floorstanders that will have a lower centre of gravity than the 1007BEs and be too heavy to knock over. The obvious choice would be Focal Electra 1028BE but I would be interested in any other recommendations you think would be worth a demo around the same price bracket. I have to listen across a long, narrow room and am around 10ft from each speaker, which are around the same distance apart. The room dictates that the speakers need to be positioned about a foot from the rear wall but they have plenty of free space around them and are not close to any corners. The closeness to the rear wall is one of the reasons I opted for a standmount speaker originally. I do not want to lose the clarity and detail the Beryllium tweeter brings but definitely do not want a bright sound, if the tone has to be coloured I would prefer it slightly on the warmer side.
2. Sell the amp and speakers and buy a high quality headphone set up. Do you have any recommendations in this area that are of similar quality to my current kit and how do you think the sound would compare with my current set up? I currently use a Project Headbox and some closed back Sennheiser HD 265 headphones for occasional listening but would want to upgrade if headphones are my main listening point. If I took this option I would likely buy a cheap amp and bookshelf speakers that could be shelved well out of reach to allow for background listening and to teach the boy about good music! Again, if you could make some suggestions at as cheap a price as possible but certainly less than £500 for the pair bearing in mind the sound I like and my preferred music genres, it would be appreciated.
Thanks in advance,
Hi Rob. Focal loudspeakers have a distinctive ‘tone’, partly through the use of beryllium, and if you are happy with them then I suggest you stay with them. Monitor Audio loudspeakers are a possible alternative, being as well made and finished as Focals, and with a similar presentation and capability.
Focal 1007 Be loudspeakers - expensive and high quality but easy to knock over.
I am not sure bigger floorstanders are the answer though; children soon grow big enough to push them over. Targets for inquisitive fingers and minds are the tweeter domes and bass/midrange dust caps, and my son liked to drop toys through the ports when he was small.
All of which suggests you might be best off with a headphone amplifier, one that uses valves and I would recommend the Icon Audio HP8. I suggest you look further up the Sennheiser range for headphones, and audition the best you feel you can afford. Small loudspeakers like the new KEF Q100 or Q300 would likely suit, or Usher S-520s. Just bear in mind that children seem to grow up very quickly and what fascinates your son today will be ‘boring’ tomorrow against his new iPod or whatever it may be in 10 years time! Then you can wheel the Focals back out again. NK
I would be tempted to put your beloved system up in the loft, and buy an Arcam Solo Mini and a pair of Q Acoustics 2050 floorstanders (plus a good pair of headphones - or even Stax electrostatic earspeakers). This would be a far more child-proof system but would also sound good enough to tide you through the next couple of years. DP
The Icon Audio HP8 valve headphone amplifier.
I wonder if there are other readers out there who share my problem. Does your hi-fi system, through necessity, share space with the television in the family room? Are you regularly denied access to said system because your wife insists on not being disturbed by your presence while she immerses herself in such fascinating TV programmes as Dancing on Ice and Britain’s Got Talent?
If so, why not move out? No, I’m not advocating leaving the missus! Move out to the garden! All you need to achieve near audio nirvana is your very own garden shed, the bigger and more robust the better! My shed is only 9ft by 6ft, but small can be beautiful!
Employ a qualified electrician to install an RCD protected lighting and power circuit in the shed. Note that this is notifiable electrical work which requires approval from your local authority building control department.
Now search your loft for the old hi-fi gear you stopped using years ago. I re-discovered my vintage Rogers Ravensbrook transistor amplifier which, after irrigating its control pots with contact cleaner, worked perfectly. I paired the amp with a much less venerable Technics SL-PJ28A CD player, but not before I attenuated the player’s line level output to match the 100mV sensitivity of the amplifier’s radio input into which it had to be plugged.
The choice of loudspeakers for use in a shed is more problematical. For instance, my archived pair of Wharfedale Dovedale 3s (incorporating 12inch woofers) took up too much valuable shed space. What you really need in the restricted shed listening environment is a pair of small, near field monitors. However, there is no need to break the bank. I use a pair of (sub £100) JBL Control One mini monitors which come complete with wall brackets. As a bonus, their moulded cabinets and plastic coned woofers are able to withstand the extremes of temperature and humidity that can be encountered in a garden shed.
Finally, for both thermal and acoustical reasons, insulation should be attached to the internal shed walls. However, I decided to attach a mini-bar instead!
My Garden Sound Studio (as I like to call my shed) keeps me happy and keeps me (as you can tell) almost sane! I whole-heartedly recommend this solution to any reader who shares my problem. Hopefully, your wife will appreciate your efforts to avoid disturbing her, as mine does.
My companion in the shed, a Rogers Ravensbrook transistor amplifier says Alan Scott.
An interesting letter Alan, which on first reading had me just about to call in the men in white coats to come and take you away.
But do you know what – I think you make a great point! This has only become clear to me now I’ve moved (I’m on to my third listening room in as many years) and the acoustics of my new place are dramatically different; far better in some ways and worse in others. The difference in sound between this new place and the last one is as large as that between a pair of £100 Mission bookshelf speakers and a £10,000 pair of Martin Logans – I kid thee not! Sheds, I suspect, have good acoustics. Wood is a well damped structure and I am sure the internal construction breaks up standing waves. Factor in the fact it’s probably a good long way away from the neighbours (unless they too listen in their sheds) and you’re onto something. I think I can speak on behalf of all our readers and everyone here at World Towers in saying we’d love to see some pictures! DP
I’ve often read comments about the matching of various components, but these are sometimes made in the context of a particular discussion. But are there any principles behind this? Is it just trial and error or left to dealer recommendation? For example, I take the case of my own very conventional system that is made up as follows: Linn Sondek, with all upgrades and recently serviced. Lingo Mk I power supply (11 years old, never serviced), Ekos tonearm (rebuilt by Linn 4 years ago), Linn Klyde cartridge (7 years old; due for renewal?), Linn Linto phono-stage. Naim NAC102 pre-amp (13 years old, never serviced) with HiCap power supply (just serviced by Naim), Naim NAP180 power amp (recently serviced), Ruark Solus ‘speakers on Partington stands.
Now I once read a comment in World something to the effect that the Linto works well with Linn products, but with no indication as to how it is suited to other cartridges. So when World Standards recommends cartridges (say) it makes no reference to matching. Therefore, if I were to seek your recommendation for a replacement cartridge (which I am) on what basis would you make it?
Then there’s another puzzle. In general, is a preamp/ power amp combination better than an equally expensive integrated amp? How long is a piece of string? I hear you ask. But, in terms money-for-money equivalents, which would be best, a Naim Supernait or my existing NAC102/NAP180?
Finally, with respect of the notion of Best Buy, I notice that Icon Audio products are very highly regarded in Hi-Fi World. For instance, Noel is highly appreciative of the effectiveness of the PS3 Phono Stage as a pre-amp and phono stage combination. To be specific, he said that it would be an admirable partner to the NAP180. Does that mean he prefers it sonically to the NAC102 (for instance)? Or is it on the basis of it being better value for money than a separate pre-amp/phono stage combination?
Incidentally, this places a question mark over the sacred tenet of Hi-Fi World philosophy: namely, that one should audition equipment for oneself and not rely on the official opinions of experts. Unfortunately, in the case of Icon Audio, it seems that equipment cannot be auditioned at home (the only valid context for auditions). And this also must apply to cartridges.
On the topic of your new website, how will it affect the make-up of the monthly magazine? Will it be open only to subscribers? Will there be an online version of the magazine? Can there be an archive section that provides access to reviews and articles from days gone by? I would certainly subscribe for use of material like this.
Each month, a total of about 12 pages of the magazine are devoted to World Standards and World Classics. But the content of these sections changes very slowly and it is largely the same from month to month. So why not consign these two features to the website? They could be replaced by an ever-changing summary of the best recent products (over the previous 12 months perhaps). There could also be a Best Buy section along the lines used by Which? magazine.
The magazine could begin a series of educational articles on the principles that govern hi-fi. It could also provide guidelines on systems for beginners and outline the ensuing paths to upgrade. Readers could be encouraged to make a contribution to this, but there are some very useful websites that could form part of this programme (decdun.me.uk and reviewexplorer.com for example). The process of demystifying many of the technicalities should attract more readers.
Although I very much like your sections on audiophile vinyl records, I note that there is little or no reference to classical music. Perhaps this is another opportunity for readers to provide views on good recordings and sources of purchase.
Anyway, even if Hi-Fi World remains totally unchanged, I shall continue to be a regular subscriber to my monthly glimpses into the unreachable sphere of audio nirvana.
Hi Peter. On cartridge matching our recommendation is made on what we believe is likely to suit your system and your tastes, from a collection of products we feel are amongst the best at any particular time. You can see this in our pages when someone asks – say – for a smooth sounding moving coil (MC) cartridge costing no more than £500. That narrows the field down to a few models, from Ortofon, Benz Micro and Audio Technica at present (but not the AT OC9 MLIII). In most cases the arm in use will suit them, as most readers after such a device already have a good arm. If their arm is unsuitable then we say so.
The Rega RB300 arm set a sensible design standard that others have matched. It has an effective mass of 12gms that cartridges are happy with.
If you are wondering whether it can all be narrowed down to narrow technical issues, such as arm effective mass, cartridge compliance and the arm’s resonant frequency (and suchlike), as is sometimes suggested, the answer is a firm “no”. Nowadays, most arms meet a sensible target effective mass value of around 10-12gms, Rega arms being amongst them, having set a useful working standard over the years. Rega arms demonstrate that an arm can be “light” (low effective mass) yet rigid too. Cartridge manufacturers tailor their hinge compliances accordingly so these days most cartridges in most arms will resonate in a region from 8Hz - 12Hz our measurements show and this is fine. There is no big issue here.
A Naim NAP180 works very nicely with a valve preamplifier I found and this is both a sonic assessment and a practical one. Valve preamps offer quite a different sound to transistor ones, with their more relaxed and fluid sound, as well as better stage depth and sweeter treble, plus an absence of glare or hardness. A NAP180 provides plenty of solid-state power and is smooth enough to carry these properties through to the loudspeaker. I tried the combo as a quick experiment and was quite taken aback at what a nice sound issued forth.
The Naim NAP180 works well with a valve preamplifier, for those interested in a hybrid amplifier.
We implore everyone to listen if they can, because personal taste, often based on experience, is a major issue. Neither David nor I feel happy about providing definitive advice; we know there is no such thing. We just do our honest best and readers seem more than happy with the result. Consider this little notional difficulty if you will: my experience reviewing and designing loudspeakers informs me that all box loudspeakers are crap. “Rhubarb” I hear you say. “The man’s taken leave of his senses!” Listen to an open dipole (e.g. Quad) then go back to a box loudspeaker and you will understand what I am getting at: you are listening to a box; we all are. Since this sound is for 99.9% of the population of the planet an existential reality, then it is for them the truth. But it isn’t – it’s the sound of a box, of this I can assure you. So when is the truth not a truth and can I be right if 99.9% of the planet would be unlikely to agree?
Best not to get too involved with notions of right and wrong and absolute truths I believe. We simply suggest what items have merit and explain why. I even enjoy listening to box loudspeakers (well, a few!).
The new website was designed to support the magazine in many ways, as well as develop its own life, if slowly. Of least interest to most readers I suspect, but of concern to manufacturers, is how we test their products. Being a design engineer myself I well understand how dismayed some manufacturers can be about the ways in which their products are assessed by magazines. That’s why we are so strong on measurement, putting extensive details on-line for manufacturers to inspect and discuss if they wish.
After pleas from readers around the world we re-instated the old Buying Guide (see Olde Worlde) and have supplemented it with a long World Favourites listing. We will extend this soon to provide an even more comprehensive guide to obsolete products. These listings remain in the magazine because many prefer to see them on paper.
Old articles of interest will be posted, but not the entire back catalogue, which is too great. Our on-line magazine offers back issues to 2001. As yet, although the website is not running as an independent magazine but it may go that way in future. NK
I shouldn’t even really be reading Hi-Fi World with my love of universal players. Here’s a brief recent-ish history.
Denon Universal DVD-2900 – built like a tank, great DVD, great SACD (yep get that organic feeling here), slightly soft CD.
Arcam Universal - better DVD, much better CD, slightly soft SACD ho hum. What of DVD-Audio I hear you cry (whimper maybe) - well seems like CD in yer face, on 11, to me most of the time. Brilliant for the first couple of minutes and then that false, non organic digital glare seems all to prevalent.
So I waited for the Blu-Ray experience. Not an early adopter, I have 100s of DVDs and how much better would Blu-Ray be on a 32” set and surely it’s just DVD-Audio really, which I’m not keen on? But in the end I paid a couple of hundred quid for a Panasonic BD80 a year or so ago. It’s the more expensive Panasonic (“High Clarity” audio you know) and got the important six analogue outs as my amp hasn’t got HDMI.
Give it a go I thought. Wow. Not talking picture which is clearly miles superior, but how come a cheap Panasonic with it’s captured electrical plug, not on as well isolated a support as the Arcam, connected via old cheap QED interconnects sounds as good as this! Put something like John Mayer’s ‘Where the Light Is’ through it and it is brilliant, better than any other silver disc of any variety (did I mention some of the HDCDs sound nice?) I have heard.
By the way I think it was unfair of you (or silly of Panasonic probably more likely) not to include the current more expensive Panasonic in your fairly recent group test, the High Clarity ones really do seem to make a difference with audio which naturally is your main area of comparison. Don’t think they spend any more money on the picture hardware or software but they do on the audio. And how good is the Panasonic as a CD player? No idea – haven’t even stuck one in the tray, possibly because I’m worried that it too might sound better – the newest one has a “valve” setting for warm CD replay I believe.
So how much better if it was Cambridge Audio’s much praised machine, or if the Panasonic had better interconnects or better isolation or electrical cable or was fed out via HDMI? The Cambridge could be my next universal. What do you reckon? How good are the Cambridge Audio analogue outs? I know I only should be thinking HDMI, but I like the kids DVDs not needing all the amps turned on to hear them and so want to use the HDMI straight to the TV, helps save the planet and sticky fingers claiming “I don’t know how it got broke Dad, it wasn’t me, it was working when I left it”.
Or should I be happy with what I’ve got and stop spending money.
Or maybe I’ve just never heard a properly set up turntable playing well recorded\produced\pressed vinyl that’s in good nick, and then I really would have heard High Definition musicality. Maybe that’s just as well.
Regards - keep the magazine coming as I do likeit, sometimes even the bits about those machines which play those fragile funny black circle things.
Connect up via HDMI to a modern receiver like Onkyo's TX-NR609 for best sound from silver discs.
Know what you mean about DVD-A sounding sterile but Blu-ray OK – yet both are PCM. My suspicion here is that high definition studio encoders (i.e. Analogue to Digital convertors) improved greatly in the intervening period between these formats so what we are hearing are better digital recordings. John Mayer’s ‘Where The Light Is’ is one very good example of a sparklingly clean, modern (2007) high definition digital recording, its 24/96 code making CD sound bland and crude.
But you know what I am going to say Matthew – you must move to HDMI. Then Blu-ray’s superiority will become even more apparent. A receiver like Onkyo’s TX-NR609 would suit, then you could get the Cambridge 650BD Blu-ray player and play every silver disc you have, including DVD-As and SACDs.
There will be problems with the kids, as they will start stabbing the receiver remote control buttons willy-nilly and lock it up, if not blow it up! A simple stereo amp could be connected up via the analogue outputs, alongside the receiver, its output being sent to a pair of mini loudspeakers on the floor somewhere, perhaps hidden out of view and harms way. The Onkyo has a video pass through mode to accommodate this, so the TV will work even with the receiver off. Or just sell the kids! NK
Thanks to NK for replying to my question about testing solid-state amplifiers as published in the April issue. In the same issue, he responds to a question on speaker damping and amplifier damping factors. Quick question for him; what would he consider the Quad ESL-63 to be, underdamped, damped, or ?? Just a quick reply would be appreciated.
(in Canada, where the snow is finally melting)
Simple – it is ?? That means there is no simple reply. The bass panel resonates at 90Hz, Peter Walker told me, and as you would expect, impedance rises to a very high value as a result. Technically then, it is lightly damped. Hope the grizzlies aren’t awake yet. NK
Is it under-damped or over-damped asks Joe, as the snow melts in Canada.
Sometimes your magazine drives me to extremes in reaction to your response to some reader’s letters! Here in Singapore I just picked up your April copy yesterday. The Peter Schuster letter. Somehow I don’t think the guy’s first language is English, does he not want to control volume in three independent listening areas from the same source? What’s the Flamingo thing about?
Anyway, gripe over and I didn’t even mention the great cable debate and usage of experts to wage war in your pages. Overall sometimes the responses don’t seem so fair (sometimes the letters are not fair I grant, but you may choose not to publish!). Anyway, it’s also your right to express your thoughts also as you deem appropriate.
Anyway the review of the Technics was very nicely done. As I’ve written in the past, DIY is a great way to get what you want. I think some articles on this would be interesting. For example, how do you modify a Technics? (what are the choices?). What should I do with my loudspeaker to improve (destroy) it? (I mean actual ‘how to’ not buy this and this).
Probably in the next few weeks I’ll send you some info + photos on the end result of my Technics journey, but the situation in Japan is hampering the final piece of the puzzle. A cheap turntable mat using a coating that allows the record to be bonded to the mat in playing, but can be easily lifted on and off. The turntable is mounted on a massive plinth with a 12in arm (hybrid OL/local making), series /shunt supply (sinks and sources), magnetic bearing and of course the mat.
Hi Mitch. We don’t care about the English, or lack of it, so much as whether the writer has something to say that might interest other readers. Personally, I rather like the fractured English of many overseas writers; it has its own charm. And generally the letters have valuable content, unlike a lot of the hollow opinion and personal insults traded by the twitteratti in many forums these days, for example. Looking forward to hearing about your Technics mods. NK
How do you modify a Technics SL-1200, asks Mitch Long? This is a Timestep Evo modified Technics, where the power supply and drive circuitry have been tweaked.
I am slightly intrigued by DP’s reply to Peter Smith concerning vinyl to CD in your March 2011 issue. Having created a CD-R using a CD recorder surely this CD-R would be accepted by any computer for copying/editing/scratch removal or have I got the wrong end of the stick?
Also, of the many options for converting vinyl/cassette to CD which, in your esteemed opinion, gives the best sonic results.
Hi Wayne - I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. You’re right that a CD-R made on a CD recorder is perfectly fine for computer use.
As for your second question, there are umpteen options. A CD recorder, recording direct from the line outputs of your phono stage is a good start – especially if the CD recorder is of high quality and has good analogue-to-digital convertors.
The other way is to do it via your computer; get a USB analogue to digital convertor (such as an M-Audio Mobile Pre) and a software recording application (such as Audacity; http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) and record your vinyl or cassettes onto your hard drive. You can then edit, chop up or process the files to your heart’s desire. The quality of this depends again on the quality of your analogue to digital convertor; spend thousands on a studio-quality product and you’ll get better results than via the hi-fi CD recorder! DP
Download the free Audacity sound editor software to record your LPs to computer.
You recently gave me advice on Townshend Rock References and tonearm choice between an SME V and Excalibur. After battle commenced and more than a little help from J7 at Audio Origami, the SME V was finally plumped for. The Excalibur is getting a good fettling from Audio Origami and will be sold on with the other Rock Reference.
The set up came with a Transfiguration AF 1 cartridge, which seems to have a very low output of 0.1mV compared to my old Dynavector 20X High Output 2.8mV. Obviously this has resulted in very low listening levels, and I have to turn a Quicksilver Full Function Pre Amp (old style) to full tilt to get any kind of air moving. The Gain of this pre amp is 39dB (at 1kHz) and at full tilt, there will be more noise picked up than desired.
It is also noticable that some of my high frequency performance is lost in the mix, and I think it may be down to the very low gain, as the high frequency response seemed fine in J7’s set up, but he was using a bg Marantz Solid State amplifier and it was nice.
This high frequency response wasn’t a problem with my old Elite Rock, so I would think the Reference would have been similar in nature, but, a little moreish.
My suspicion is that the finer details of the midrange upward is getting hidden with the noise picked up when the pre is set very high, and I am listening to bass - low mid and high mid - swathed in noise.
There are a number of MC Step Up transformers out there, so any idea what makes I should be looking at and what kind of step up ratios I should be aiming for.
Any idea where I can demo Icon Audio stuff in the frozen north, as I am very curious about their stuff and am considering their MB 845s. I am not entirely sure how they made the massive leap from the Mark 1 to the Mark 2, and not convinced if the difference in cost merits such an outlay, but, its certainly a future consideration. Thing is I like the Quicksilver stuff, and a direct listening test would be useful.
System info is Townshend Rock Reference, SME V, Transfiguration AF1 (very good condition - checked at 60 x magnification), Quicksilver Pre amplifier, Quicksilver V4 Mono blocks, Sugden Masterclass CD player and Celestion A3 loudspeakers. Listening room is around 12ft x 18ft, wooden floor – its an old cottage and the ceiling is around 10ft. I also have many cassettes and my Nakamichi BX 300E went pear shaped in recent transit damage, the front door was damaged badly. Do you know if this is salvageable, as I may even consider the Sony Wm D6C, or even another Nak. Your advice would be greatly appreciated, the magazine has provided me with a lot of useful info, and moments of hilarity when my letters have been printed as my partner thinks I’m quite silly to be so chuffed when they get printed.
The new website is a big improvement, are more historical reviews going to be added as time passes?
Luxman's E200 phono stage is super sensitive and very quiet, matching even the lowest output moving coil cartridges.
Best for the Transfiguration is Luxman’s E200 phono stage we tested in the August 2010 edition, available on-line (go to our website and the Read Online button at top left). This is able to cope with ultra low output MCs. An Icon Audio PS3 may well be adequate as its input noise is low too, but no preamp is as quiet as the Lux by a big margin.
I phoned Nakamichi service, part of B&W loudspeakers, at 01903 695 695 and they told me they have parts for BX-300s and a stack of donor machines, so a repair is likely. Cosmetic damage may be difficult to eliminate though.
We have added some old DIY projects, 300B amplifier and KLS9 loudspeaker, and more old reviews and features will be added too, over the coming months. NK
I own a couple of vintage amps., a Sugden A48 Mk 1 and a CR Developments Kalypso valve amp (15 watts). I wonder if you could help me as I’m not sure either amp would work with my vintage pair of Quad ESL57s. As the impedance drops like a bomb on the electrostatics, I’m concerned that I might damage the Sugden. Would the 15 watts output of my valve amp be a better match or not powerful enough? Your thoughts on this would be very much appreciated. I have a 303/33 Quad amp waiting in the wings if all else fails!
Low loudspeaker impedance at 20kHz, right down to one Ohm or so with electrostatics, is only a problem if you turn volume right up whilst playing Rock music with strong treble. The current drawn may then blow an output transistor, although this is not likely, because the current pulses are not of a sufficiently long period to heat the p-n junction up to failure. So used at modest volume the A48 MkI should cope, but it isn’t an ideal choice I must admit.
Valve amps have no such problem but 15 Watts isn’t a lot for ESL-57s. The 33/303 combo is ideal of course but a bit soft and murky by today’s standards unless modified. Really, you should get a modern 45 Watter from Quad or Icon Audio. NK
The Quad II-forty valve amplifier was designed to drive ESL-57s.
A DATE WITH DESTINY?
I was impressed with your review of the Creek Destiny 2 Integrated amplifier, it sounds like my kind of amp! I have the Tact/Lyngdorf SDA-2175 power amp. Other than one is an integrated, how would you compare them? You stated that the Creek would be your preferred totable amp?
I thought the Creek Destiny 2 magnificent and superior to the SDA-2175, which to me was not going to set the world alight, even though it is a clever digital device. Just bear in mind the Creek does not have that nasty hard glare or sterility of most transistor amplifiers. It is a fabulous transistor amplifier in my view, one of the very best. NK
Creek Destiny 2 amplifier, one of the best sounding transistor amplifiers available. thinks Noel.
I am just recovering from the Hong Kong cough which I picked up recently!
Head of Acoustic Developments
International Audio Group
We have the dreaded cough here in the UK. It’s obviously got a season ticket with China Airways.
Noel Keywood, publisher
For a bad cough, put one of these in a soup, the Chinese say.
This Chinese remedy of pear and ginger soup has put me to rights.
You need the full recipe for the soup:
About 1 inch of fresh ginger stem cut into small strips.
One pear – sliced.
Tablespoon of honey.
Pinch of salt.
Simmer the ginger and pear together in a pan with just enough water to cover the pear pieces for five minutes or until the pear is softened.
Take off the heat and stir in the honey and salt.
Drink the soup and eat the pear at the same time.
According to Chinese tradition the ginger and salt are good for the throat. The pear and honey are good for the nose and lungs.
Head of Acoustic Developments
International Audio Group
As a new reader to your mag and a relatively novice system builder I wonder if you can put me on the road to improving my system.
My real passion is vinyl, although I do have quite a lot of CDs too. I have a Rega 25 turntable with an Elys 2 cartridge powered by a Nait 5 integrated amp and a cheap second hand Naim Stageline phono stage. Speakers are B&W 704s with QED XT400 cables in a room approximately 14ft x 11ft. CD player is a Marantz CD63Mk2 KI Signature.
Your response to Andrew of Greensted (May 2011) caught my eye and got me wondering whether a change to the Goldring 1022GX cartridge and Quad QC24P phono stage would be a significant step in the right direction, as I also have to turn up the volume significantly when playing vinyl. I have been delighted with the service from my old Nait and had planned to eventually upgrade to the Naim NAC202/NAP200 combo (when funds allow!). In the meantime I need a fix and wonder if the change of cartridge and possibly the phono stage could be the way to go? Also would the Quad complement the eventual addition of the Naim pair? I listen to mainly rock and blues.
Dave – go for it. The Goldring 1022GX cartridge is both dynamic and fundamentally accurate, and it has a good stylus that digs out real detail, but with no top end sting. It will be an improvement over the mild mannered Elys.
The Quad phono stage is lovely and has oodles of gain, much more than most other stages, so you won’t be winding up volume. Furthermore, you can move to Moving Coil later if you so wish and it will still sing. Additionally, putting valves in front of a smooth but grunty Naim set up works well I’ve found. And the Quad is punchy too. I wager you’ll be very surprised at the improvement. NK
With loads of gain and both MM and MC input options, Quad's QC24P valve phono stage is a great way to go if you have a Naim and want to use LP.
I have an LP12, 1982 vintage, Lingo’d, Cirkused and Trampolinned, and with an Ittok LVII. My present cartridge is a Lyra Lydian, now getting a bit long in the tooth, and I’ve been wondering about replacing it. I bought your May edition to check out the Benz Ace review.
As I read the magazine I was attracted by the article on the Inspire LP12 rebuild. Finances would permit a rebuild or a new cartridge, but not both. Which should it be?
But wait! My eye was then caught by the comment on the Ittok in the World Classics section – “now off the pace”. Should the Ittok be sent off for a rewire? Should it be replaced, and if so would something at around £700 plus trade-in give me a worthwhile improvement? Should I give up reading magazines that confuse me with too many desirable options (obviously I’m thinking about Motorcycle Sport and Leisure at this point)?
The Lyra could wait a bit longer before being replaced. Should I go for a rebuild of the deck, or of the arm, before changing the cartridge, and if so, which would give me the greater improvement? You talked me out of selling the LP12 and my vinyl collection a few years ago, and I’m so glad you did. Which direction would you point me in now?
The rest of the set-up is a Lehmann Black Cube, Naim Nait XS and Musical Technology Harrier SE speakers.
If we talked you out of selling your vinyl, our existence is forever justified! NK
Okay – I’d say get your deck rebuilt first, and then go for an arm upgrade. If you like the Ittok sound then try Audio Origami’s PU7 – it’s a gorgeous design and way better than an Ittok. Then it’s time for your new cartridge, but if you can possibly afford it then go for a new phono stage first; the ANT Audio Kora 3T Ltd. is a far more musical and natural sounding device than your Lehmann Black Cube, in my opinion. DP
Get an Audio Origami PU7 to replace the Ittok, says David.
BACK TO BLACK!
After being out of the game so to speak for about eight years due to circumstances that need not concern us here I recently got a system set up again. Luckily, my vinyl and CD collection remained intact.
My current set up consists of -
AR Legend turntable with outboard power supply, Mantra Logic Datum II tone arm, Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, Sony CDP - XB930 CD player, Pioneer A-300X amplifier and Lake Audio Model 5 point 2 floorstanders.
Everything was purchased second hand, bar the cartridge. Not the most exotic I think you will agree but the sounds it is making has left album sleeves and jewel cases strewn all over my listening room.
I used to crave upgrades all the time previously when I owned what most would consider a much better system. Proving that Nirvana can be had on a budget.
Wonder what that valve amp I’ve just seen advertised would sound like in this set up?
Hi Derek. If you are happy it might be best to leave it that way. Your Chinese Lake loudspeakers are an unknown quantity to us. If you are interested in a valve amplifier then try and get one on loan to see how they fare with your Lakes and with your taste. If you buy one cheap direct from China, as you did with the Lakes, you are likely to get poor transformers and a mediocre sound, as well as fake CE safety certification and no ROHS compliance. NK
Not knowing your loudspeakers, Derek, I can’t say. If they’re small, inefficient mini monitors then any valve amp will sound bad as it would be a poor electrical match for them. If they’re nice and sensitive then it would have a fighting chance – but of course it all depends on the quality of the valve amp. DP
CAUGHT IN THE VORTEX
Might I be so bold as to mention VortexBox – a freely downloadable .iso of a complete Fedora 14 CD and DVD ripping streaming network server. Burn the .iso to a bootable disc, and use any old PC to build your VortexBox.
It installs faultlessly to build a stable reliable music network server. It will burn CDs to FLAC files, wav or mp3 – with adjustable bitrate. It rips DVDs to .mkv files, playable with VLC mediaplayer or HD Ryan Playon, and a 3Gb disc is very cheap these days. It tags from a free database, and spits the disc out when complete.
On a PC, SoftSqueeze allows you to play tracks, random mixes or by artist or album. SqueezeBox server will stream all your PCs music to the network, and SlimDevices Squeezebox v3 (now Logitech, ebay 100!) is an ideal player, with optical output to Onkyo optical in stereo amplifier or DAC to amplifier.
With the world’s greatest depression just starting, not all can afford RipNAS boxes, or Vox Olympian speakers: this is a great introduction to network streaming: I used an Intel 410 Atom motherboard in a CPC media case, with Pico psu from 12v- 30w consumption. Most hi-fi magazines will never mention this brilliantly written free program, which is a stunning Linux application.
That sounds like an unashamed attempt at free advertising Steve, but I guess a free Linux app for this purpose is a gift horse that should not be looked in the mouth. NK