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August 2011 Issue - Page 3

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August 2011 Issue
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SHED CRED

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.

Alan Scott

Chelmsford

 

rogers-ravensbrook

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

 

MATCH MAKING

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.

Peter Ruane

 

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.

 

rega-rb300

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.

 

naimnap180

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

 

HIGH LIFE

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.

Matthew Mowle

 

onkyo-nr-609

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



 

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