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August 2011 Issue - Page 2

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August 2011 Issue
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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.

Nick

South Australia

 

audio-research-610t

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


eminent-lft-8

A more affordable alternative to a Magneplanar is Eminent Technology's LFT-08b.

 

CHILD'S PLAY

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,

Rob

 

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-1007be

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

 

icon-audio-hp8-mk2

The Icon Audio HP8 valve headphone amplifier.



 

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