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September 2011 issue

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September 2011 issue
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World Mail    September 2011 issue        

 

Write to us!    E-mail –>     This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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.

 


tannoy-revolution-dc10

Made near Perthshire, the superb Tannoy DC10

 

SPEAK EASY

I am writing to ask your advice on buying new speakers as I find your reviews to be the most reliable and revealing. Unfortunately, I live far from any hi-fi retailers which makes it difficult to hear any demonstrations, and I’ve yet to read a review that made me think ‘that’s the one’.


I currently have a pair of Monitor Audio PL100s, with a wonderful Luxman 590A 11 integrated amplifier and Renaissance transport and DAC. I love the clarity of the above set up and vocals are a joy, but the PL100s can be bright in tone, as you have pointed out in past reviews. I am looking for something as musical as the Monitor Audios, but more even handed and with more bass. The ability to produce a good soundstage is also important to me. My listening room is 5m x 5.5m x4.3m high. I listen to all kinds of music, but avoid anything with a heavy bass beat. I can spend up to £6,000, perhaps a little more. I enjoy your magazine, especially readers letters.

J. Robertson

Perthshire

 

The Platinum Series loudspeakers have great qualities but I found them too bright and I also have reservations about bass quality, at least from the PL200 and 300.  All the same, they are a difficult act to follow because by comparison most other loudspeakers will sound less incisive and less apparently clear. One loudspeaker that will definitely appeal is the Eminent Technology LFT-8b (see January 2010 issue). It is also very reasonably priced for what it is. If this is too radical then a very obvious choice is manufactured just south of you in Glasgow, namely Tannoy. Their DC8 and DC10 loudspeakers are strong in the bass but smooth and sophisticated elsewhere. I am sure they will appeal and it is likely you can get to hear them even though you are in Perthshire. Otherwise, think Martin Logan and the new Theos, which we hope to review soon. NK

 

If you're temperamentally inclined to the Monitor Audio Platinum type sound, but crave more refinement, then without hesitation I'd recommend the Vivid V1.5. These have a lovely open sound, with wonderful soundstaging and real punch, yet they're delicate and refined beyond their price point – a truly lovely listen! DP

 

TABLE TALK

Two years ago after reading positive reviews in Hi-Fi World and other magazines I purchased an Avid Diva II turntable for occasional use with my record collection. On the advice of the dealer at the time I fitted an SME 309 tonearm. Since the purchase last year of an Audio Research PH5 phono stage, vinyl playback has become my preferred method of listening to music. After several upgrades in the last year my system now comprises an Audio Research LS26 and PH5, a Musical Fidelity A5cr power amp and Sonus Faber Cremona M loudspeakers.


I am now looking to upgrade the front end. My first thought was to buy the Diva II SP upgrade package but at £1,500 plus shipping it looks very poor value for money considering the price differential between the two products. I know that the Diva II SP is a turntable that you think highly of. My question is, should I upgrade the Diva II or just trade it in for a Volvere SP or some other turntable, bearing in mind that I will probably get the best deal from an Avid dealer.


I will of course fit the SME arm on whatever turntable I buy; can you recommend a suitable cartridge. I am not an audiophile and just enjoy listening to music such as Pop, Folk, Instrumental and female vocalists, so for me involvement with the music is more important than the last once of resolution.


Finally a question about cables: is there any benefit to be gained by fitting a different cable to the SME tonearm? If so what would you recommend?

Fred Banks

Netherlands


avid-diva-ii

What is the best way to upgrade my Avid Diva II turntable, asks Fred?

 

Hmmm... what a question! You say that the last ounce of resolution isn't important, and that you like an involving sound. Well in that case I'd recommend you move away from the Avids. I was going to recommend the Volvere Sequel which is a great deck with a thunderous, relentlessly powerful sound and massive amounts of information, but euphonic, smooth and gently musical it is not – hardly the ideal weapon of choice for folk music, then!


Instead you need to look towards something closer to the Nottingham Analogue stable, and the Fletcher Audio Omega Point 5 (£3,699) is probably the most suitable – this isn't a Notts Analogue deck but was the last creation from the aforemention company's founder, Tom Fletcher, and as such the ultimate expression of his philosophy I'd say. It will provide a fine platform for your SME 309, although the Audio Origami PU7 will sound quite a lot more 'organic' and musical should you wish to upgrade it later. DP

 

Hi Fred. Funny that you do not mention the cartridge you are using at present. Both the SME309 and Audio Research PH5 phono stage suit a good moving coil (MC) type, but you seem to be implying that you are not especially quality conscious, so I am confused!  This could be taken to mean that a good moving magnet (MM) cartridge will do, in which case I recommend Ortofon’s 2M Black as usual. Another way of reading your words is that a half decent MC would do, in which case a Benz Micro Ace would suit. NK

 

GUIDES TO THE GALAXY!

I have been able to access the older buying guides and reviews pages on your website in the past but it now appears to be unavailable or has moved. Yet It still comes up in search engine results. Can you advise me of how to access this info or tell me its new location? if it has been removed it would be most disappointing. Could you make the listings available as a download?

bandit66

 

Many people asked for this now obsolete guide to be resurrected. It provides useful information on old equipment and helps when buying second hand items from eBay, we were told. So you'll now find it in original form on our website, www.hi-fiworld.co.uk. Go to the Olde Worlde section and here you will find Old Buying Guide. However, you will find a far more detailed contemporary listing in our World Favourites section. This will be updated in the near future. NK

 

MEANS TO AN END

The notes following below are from Erno Borbely's website. They could form the basis of an interesting article/ investigation for publishing in Hi-Fi World.

 

Use Terminated Interconnect Cables

"A preamp feeding a power amp with interconnect cable is shown in fig. 1. Normally the output impedance of the preamp is in the order of 50 to several 100 Ohm. The input impedance of the power amp on the other hand is in the tens to hundreds of kilo Ohm. Connecting these together with a shielded cable means that the cable sees a low driving impedance and a very high load impedance. The result is that the signal you are sending from the preamp bounces back from the other end resulting in echoes. And the signal will be smeared by the time it arrives at the power amp. This is practically independent of whether you are using a cheap shielded cable, a professional coax cable or a 1k$/m fancy silver cable. The reason is that the cable is not terminated with its characteristic impedance.

Consequently significant improvements can be achieved by using terminated cables between pieces of audio gear. This is especially important when the distance is several metres. Typical example is a line amp sitting next to your armchair and drives a 10m cable going to the power amp. In fig. 1 I have designated the output impedance of the line amp driving the cable with R and the other end of the cable is also terminated with the same resistor. This resistor has to be equal to the characteristic impedance of the cable. If you are using a 50 Ohm coax cable then R=50 Ohm, if the cable is a 75 Ohm video cable then R=75 Ohm. Should you use a 150 Ohm microphone cable, then R=150 Ohm. Naturally the connector at the output of your line amp and at the input of your power amp has to have the same impedance as the cable. If you are using R=50 Ohm then you need a 50 Ohm connector. In case of R=75 Ohm the connector has to be a 75 Ohm one.

Fortunately there are very good 50 Ohm and 75 Ohm BNC connectors on the market and they are much better than any RCA connector you can buy anyway. If you terminate the cable at BOTH ends with its characteristic impedance, then it appears to be a purely resistive cable and there will be no reflections (echoes) back from the load. This is not new; the RF people have been using this for ages."

Jan Eigenhuis

South Africa

www.lowveldaudio.co.za

 

Thanks Jan, but the characteristic impedance of a line is valid only over its operating frequency range – and that’s why “the RF people” have been using it for ages. The distributed values of capacitance and inductance in a cable are so small they have no impact at low audio frequencies, at least over 1m or so. Coaxial cables typically work from Radio Frequencies (RF) 100MHz upward where the need to match drive impedance to cable and load impedance is important; at audio frequencies lower than 0.02MHz it is not.


Also, audio cables do not have a characteristic impedance, and audio line drive stages are not designed to drive low loads continuously. Drawing excessive current by slugging a line driver with a resistor is likely to raise distortion and it could even overheat the output device. So this is not something we are going to pursue! (the Borbely website is now closed)


There are bigger issues elsewhere, quite frankly, and the use of all-balanced circuitry driving balanced analogue lines is probably a more fruitful area to pursue, since it cancels certain forms of noise and distortion and it also breaks earth loops by separating audio from earth currents. Yet few people do it. Instead everyone is using cheap (60p or so) unbalanced to balanced ‘off-the-shelf’ line drivers so as to be able to fit XLR sockets. There’s still quite a lot of sensible engineering that can be done in audio, but it doesn’t include putting resistors on the ends of cables. NK

 

DRIVE TIME

I was driving to work today in a Mazda, a totally stock car normal for Singapore. The stereo has no brand, the speakers have no brand, the wiring is probably all SWG20 maximum. But what a glorious ride, the sun was shining, everyone was being the usual speed kings – must get in first in that less than a car distance gap, but who cared! Depeche Mode on CD have never sounded so good, everything laid out in front of me, bass was distorted and soggy, vocals distorted at the top - but the thrill of it! As I said it’s a nondescript car stereo, but it rocked the house. car vibrating, back window vibrating like the skin on a bass drum. Almost a live experience and feel - fantastic. This is completely different to the home environment where the total sum spent probably gets close to the car price.


I’ve suspected over the years that perhaps the system can be an obsession and the car experience sadly sort of backs it up. Got in to work yesterday and was humming in the lift; a colleague asked, “why you so happy today?” I’d spent the night before in a pub listening to some real awful attempt at Irish music with penny whistles and flutes, the only positive point was that it was easy to get a table, you all know why.

So half an hour in the car the next day restored my nerves and let the music flood out, not really hi-fi, bit distorted, but Tubular Bells on CD is still a thrill and we don’t want the thrill to be gone – it's the music that matters !

Mitch Long

Singapore


tubular-bells-cd

 

Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' is still a thrill in the car, says Mitch Long...


LIGHT OF THE WORLD

I would be grateful for your advice. I run equipment with which you are very familiar, so I expect you will be very well placed to push me in the right direction. I currently run a Clearaudio Champion 2, with a carbon Unify tonearm and Clearaudio Maestro MM cartridge. This feeds an Icon Audio PS3 (with Jensen Caps), Audio Innovations S200 preamp (through which I also run a Leema Stream II CD player) and Icon Audio MB845 Signature amplifiers. These, in turn, feed a pair of Ascendo C7 loudspeakers. The Ascendos are a bit of a rarity in the UK: they are a four way design with a forward-firing coaxial mid/treble unit, a rear-firing tweeter and an additional bass unit inside the speaker enclosure. The amps and preamps sit on Vertex and Kinabalu platforms on Atacama Equinox stands. I also use a Vertex Tag mains block and several Vertex Roraima mains cables. These have cleaned up the sound of my system hugely and have probably been one of best upgrades I have made in recent years.


Overall, I am pretty happy with this set up. To my ears, it sounds beautifully smooth with great soundstaging and powerful dynamics, but on vinyl it sounds a trifle too ‘dark’ and in need of a some extra openness. I suspect the fault, if fault is the right word here, lies with the combination of the Icon amplification, Jensen caps and smooth loudspeakers. Ironically, CD sounds much more open, though lacks the liquidity and depth of vinyl.


What I am looking for is a change of cartridge and new preamp to replace the Audio Innovations. I am particularly interested in your advice on a new MC cartridge that will provide the extra openness I am seeking without adding treble spit and sibilance which I loathe. For reasons of domestic felicity, I have a budget of around 1500 pounds for the cartridge and the same again for the preamp. I have no particular brand loyalty, though I confess to completely irrational pangs of desire whenever I see the name Benz Micro mentioned (probably not helpful and a core reason why the heart should not be allowed to rule the head in these matters). Naturally, under normal circumstances, I would audition as much as possible but without hearing equipment in the particular context of my system you never know whether what you hear in a dealer’s showroom will translate especially well at home.


I hope that gives you enough information to work with. I look forward to your response with keen anticipation.

Kelvin Meek


ortofon-cadenza-bronze

Ortofon Cadenza Bronze, like shining a golden light onto the music, says Noel...


 

Hi Kelvin. You will get exactly what you want with my favourite cartridge, the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC. The Bronze has a gorgeous tonality, sweet and sonorous, yet is open and lucidly clear as only a fine MC can be. It is not as dark as the Cadenza Black and does not have the academic levity of the A90, nor the characterlessness (!) of the Per Windfeld. It’s like shining a gentle golden light onto the music; the lift is there but it is slight and subtle. It is my cartridge of choice (yes, I prefer it to more expensive designs) and Rafael Todes has just bought one too. Since his ear is acquainted to live instruments I feel my choice is vindicated!


The Bronze will counterbalance the dark tonality of your vinyl front end. You have enough gain in the PS3 phono stage to drive the power amps direct and this suggests you consider a passive preamp like the Creek OBH-22 or, far better, a Music First Audio transformer preamp. The latter has a brighter, airier quality than active valve preamps and would again help lift your sound. NK

 

 

musicfirst-passivpreamp

The Music First Audio transformer preamp, a clean, airy and open sound.

 

SUPER MARKET SWEEP

It is not part of my normal psyche to complain about turntable reviews – such events should be encouraged and are in themselves most welcome! However, this latest vinyl shoot-out in Hi-Fi World had me perplexed...


This perplexity was not related to a Michell turntable coming out on top, as one would expect that in Hi-Fi World of course, but was in fact related to the inconsistent and unfair choice in turntables for review.


As an example, why choose the Nottingham Analogue Interspace deck when the natural competitor to the Michell Gyro SE / Technoarm combo in price would be the Nottingham Analogue Ace Spacedeck and Space arm combination? The Notts Analogue Interspace is significantly cheaper than the Gyro deck combo tested, but the Spacedeck/Spacearm is almost identical in price. I don’t think this is acceptable really. If you wanted to buy a car you would not compare a Ford Fiesta with a VW Golf.


Reviews such as this can be misleading on a number of levels. They can be construed as bias towards a certain manufacturer or lead to conclusions that are not valid in the real world. I hope Hi-Fi World have the necessary gumption to actually address the points in this letter and mend their ways!

Antonio Pagliuca

 

In our group tests, we tend do a ‘sweep’ of models at slightly varying price points, so we can look at what’s on the market and whether it’s worth spending extra on. Sometimes we get a surprise where the £1,200 CD player (or whatever) betters the £1,800 one; sometimes we don’t. I think this often more enlightening than umpteen models selling at exactly the same price. I think that people need perspective, and the group test is the ideal place in which to give this. DP

 

BIG AUDIO DYNAMICS

Over the last decade, I built a system that satisfied me very much. It is composed of a SME 30/2A and a Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge, a Linn LP12 with Ekos arm, ArkivB, Lingo and Linto, (which I just could not sell after I bought the SME, a dynamiked Linn Akurate DS, an Ayre K1xe preamp, V5xe amp and Quad ESL-2905. Cables are from Nordost and Cardas. I mainly listen to acoustic music, jazz, blues, folk-rock and classical.


Last month, I purchased a Cary Audio Design Xciter amp and Grado GS1000i. What a shock! The music is presented in a completely different way, of course, but the realism is huge, according to me. Actually, I think what I miss in my main system is DYNAMICS! The soundstage is huge and precise, the timbre are rich and full bodied, big amount of harmonics but, in comparison with Cary and Grado, it lacks dynamics.


So I’m wondering how I could begin my quest to dynamics, without sacrificing soundstage and harmonics. The first solution could be to go to valves. Quad II-eighty? Icon Audio 845? SILK Glowmaster KT88 (balanced like the Ayre combo)? Or change the loudspeaker? Big Tannoy Prestige? Or something else...

David Nowicki

 

tannoy-yorkminster

Er, well all of those! A big Tannoy Prestige series loudspeaker driven by a valve amplifier is all about dynamics; it is high fidelity on a different scale. The only difficulty here is that big Tannoys need big rooms, around 30ft or 10m long at least if you are to hear how low and clean they go. Smaller rooms get over excited and can add boom, I have found with Yorkminsters. But Tannoys are a polar opposite to your Quad 2905s, which are impressive loudspeakers to say the least, if in a different way. You really need to find a dealer who can demonstrate Tannoys to see whether you want to make the change. Just be aware that most dealers use solid-state amplifiers, the end result being a hard, remorseless, transistory sound that isn’t very nice. The midrange horn of a dual-concentric is a little hard in itself so the two don’t go together well, and Tannoys use the first few Watts of any amplifier’s output, which are commonly dirty Watts from transistors. So if you can get to hear big Tannoys insist they are driven by a valve amplifier.


Your Quad 2905s would certainly benefit by being driven from Quad II-eighty valve power amplifiers, which will give more apparent oomph than solid-state, but of course electrostatics are not really about heavy dynamics, no matter what you put in front of them. Martin Logan hybrids are another option. The forthcoming Theos is an interesting proposition that may well suit you. NK


CH CH CH CHANGES...

I do enjoy your magazine and constantly find myself nodding vigorously in agreement at your attitude of judging hi-fi equipment and media on its sonic merit rather than how ‘in’ it is. My system is a mix of new and second-hand bits and pieces mainly assembled in the early noughties. I feel that it is ready for an upgrade...

I am going to start with the amp. I thought that the Denon PMA 350II was dying at Christmas as the right channel went completely dead, and the left rather muffled. After cleaning the dusty internals with contact cleaner and cotton buds, the Denon amp is like new again, but I still believe a change is required (budget circa £300, I would happily spend £30,000 if I had it). I have never felt that the Denon and the Rega Jura Speakers have been a perfect partnership. I have sited the system in numerous positions in four different houses. It has always sounded detailed and musical (especially when playing vinyl), but the bass has always been a bit too much on the meaty side. I have stuffed socks into the rear ports which helps, but the dog keeps stealing them!


Apart from the bass, I really like the Juras, so rather than change them, I am in search for an amp with a phono stage that will match them. At present the Rega Brio looks like a good bet, but I can’t find very many reviews on this amp. The Japanese offerings from Rotel, Marantz, Yamaha and Onkyo look tempting, but they seem to be speccd with things that I don’t need (second speaker outputs, loudness and tone controls, standby), so I feel that I am paying for circuitry that will never be used.


The Rega has the opposite; it has only one recording loop and no headphone stage. I like my headphones, and making tapes as well as MiniDiscs, but somehow my gut feeling is to go for the Rega and hope that the spec limitations will be forgiven when I find that they perfectly partner the Juras. I live in Belgium where British hi-fi equipment (Rega and Cambridge Audio anyway) appears to be almost double the UK price, which I find inexcusable as we are only a two hour train journey from St Pancras. I am holidaying in the UK this year and a day will be spent buying a new amp. Could you please tell me if the Brio is a fair bet, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

Declan Dempsey

Belgium


cambridge-audio-650a

Cambridge Audio Azur 650 amplifier has fine trim tone controls that can subtly lessen bass.

 

Hi Declan. In my experience Rega amplifiers are ‘polite’ in their sound, but smooth and civilised. They are beautifully built of course, since Rega use custom castings rather than pressed steel chassis. They are suitable for the Juras and will dampen down the bass a little, but I am not sure it will be enough. Perhaps a Cambridge Audio Azur 650A with its fine trim tone controls may help? They work at the end of the audio band so turning bass down a little will tame the Juras if they are overpowering. Cambridge Audio amplifiers are a little less svelte than those from Rega or Cyrus admittedly, but a step up from a Denon – and you get a headphone output.


Price differences are usually attributable to distributor margins and distributors are needed to handle local advertising and marketing, service returns and customer relations. You can of course buy in the UK instead; just factor in transport costs, but they are not so great unless the parcel is very heavy. NK

 

Hi Declan – referring back to reader Antonio Pagliuca's letter ('Super Market Sweep'), in 2006 I did a group test of integrated amplifiers spanning £350 to £1,000-plus. The cheapest there, the (£350) Rega Brio very nearly came top of the group – and duly won the Hi-Fi World best amplifier 2006 Award a few months later. I can still remember its wonderfully musical sound that was quite unlike most solid-state amplifiers. As such it comes highly recommended as a used buy, and I think this is the one you should choose. DP

 

META-PHYSICALLY SPEAKING

I am regarded by family and friends as a hi-fi expert and am often consulted. So far my advice has been very well received. Little do they know that I merely consult Hi-Fi World! So I would advise Chris Mitchell and other readers not to worry about the quality of HFW’s reviews and advice. It is simply top class. However, I now need some help myself.


I have been trying to get into computer audio and have used several different programs to rip CDs to hard disk. Unfortunately they all seem to want to catalogue the rip as an album or playlist. For example, I ripped a CD of Mitsuoko Uchida playing Schubert’s last two piano sonatas; this showed in the catalogue as an album entitled “Mitsuoko Uchida plays Schubert” – with no other information.


As my collection is mostly classical this form of cataloguing is useless. Can you recommend ripping/ cataloguing software more suitable for classical works - preferably one that does not require an internet connection. I thought that much of the information about a recording was contained as metadata on the CD. Is this true and how does one view it?


I’ve also tried recording internet radio using the much praised Audacity. However, I have found this extremely difficult to use and have reverted to FM tuner and cassette deck. Can you recommend a simpler alternative to Audacity?

Bill Lyon

 

Hi Bill - ironically, considering the nice things you've just said about our advice, the answer is no! I can't help you with your MP3 ID tagging woes, so let's 'crowd source' this – if anyone has an answer then please write in and we'll print it.


I can confirm however, that CDs do contain embedded metadata, which can take one (or both) of two forms. First, every CD has a unique (in theory) identifier code which lets the software of iTunes, etc., poll one (or more) of the various online databases to find out the artist, album and track names, etc. Sadly these databases aren't always accurate, and sometimes when I stick in some of my Japanese pressed CDs bought in the early/mid nineties into iTunes the software completely changes my CD's identity, making me type in all the data manually! Still, this identifier is just a number, there's nothing textual about it – getting the track/ album/ artist details relies on this number being matched up with a separate database, usually online.


Second is the CD Text system. Sony have been using this standard for a number of years now, and any CD marked CD-Text will give extensive metadata, displayed on a CD-Text-compatible CD player's alphanumeric display. Not all CD machines have CD-Text, but again you can bet a modern Sony machine will have. CD-Text is stored either in the lead in area of the disc or in the subcode channels; the disc will play on all CD players but won't give text on non-CD-Text machines.


As for Audacity, I'd persevere - a couple of hours of fiddling should see you getting the hang of it. It's no harder to use than a high end late seventies cassette deck with variable bias and record EQ settings! DP


THE ONE AND ONLY

How can David Price still think that the Sondek is still a super deck? Let’s look at the Linn from a non hi-fi point of view. Here we have a product that is now some forty years old and still, by what I read, not working properly. From day one of purchasing a Sondek you were onto a loser. No matter how the dealer had set it up you could not place it on a stand on a suspended floor and walk about in the same room as foot falls made the arm jump all over the place. If it was placed on a wall shelf you could walk about but the suspension was so badly tuned that in the worst cases by playing the music too loud of you got acoustic feedback that got the speakers howling.


Now I know the suspension was tuned in such a way to give some feedback into the music to make it more rhythmical and expressive. But this was at a loss of sound stage and depth of image or in fact any image. You could not take it back to the dealer as he had, if truth be known, brow beaten you into the purchase. And the hi-fi press had told you how good it was. Even in David’s review he admits that when he purchased his Sondek he preferred the sound of the Roksan in the listening tests. Did the dealer tell him he was wrong in his choice or was it he did not believe his own ears, or just afraid of his colleagues' ridicule?


I own an Alphason Sonata with HR100S arm with Atlas power supply which I purchased in the mid-eighties. This turntable has been all over the country and is sat proudly on top of my Alphason five self-stand. It has never been out of tune or in need of a dealer to set it up. It was properly sorted when it was manufactured. I’m a classically trained trumpet player who’s played with full symphony orchestras, brass bands and jazz combos. I do know how instruments sound even though a Linn dealer tried to tell me different, saying just because I was musician didn’t mean I knew more about music and the sound of an orchestra than he did. This was while I was listening to a new pre-power amplifier with him sat on the back of the couch tapping out the tempo with his hand on the arm of the coach and his foot tapping the side of the couch. That’s when I got up and left. Please, I was trying to listen to Adagio for Strings, by the modern composer Samuel Barber. Go to an orchestral concert and you can place the instruments across the stage and even place the percussion at the back, real depth of image. What a prat the Linn salesman was. That’s how they sell the Sondek to you, get you involved in the music?


How many upgrades and rebuilds has the Sondek undergone in its time as a world class super deck? I can’t even stay for too long in a room where a Linn is playing as the sound really starts to grate on me. I wonder if this is because I have perfect pitch. I don’t like the Sondek as a spinner of Vinyl and the numbers that were sold, because I truly believe that it the Linn Sondek put more music lovers off hi-fi and real quality music reproduction. Linn, Naim and their dealers killed the goose that laid the golden egg with their products that always needed tinkering with and upgrading and let’s be honest, sounded awful. If you already had a stereo you knew all about soundstage, imaging being deep and wide. You had heard it on your old system, read about it in the hi-fi magazines. Now at dealers with these two products we were being told that didn’t matter. What mattered was musicality and rhythm, to name two falsehoods. Tell a lie long enough and it becomes the truth. Ever heard the Danny Kaye song 'The King's New Clothes'? Now there’s one that leaves everything laid bare, if you listen and look at what is in front of you.


This latest upgrade from Inspire is more a total rebuild than just an upgrade. Let’s look at what is left of the original Linn. The lid, the bearing, the top plate and the platter, is that just the four. How the Sondek with all these upgrades and tweaks possibly be the best deck in the world, when there are other decks that have not had anything done to them for years and they still sound and image better that the Linn. My Alphason Sonata for one, a couple of GyroDecs and Townsend’s original Rock for others always sounded better. Luckily, we were all into our music rather than hi-fi and because we did not follow the crowd we still love our music. Strange how Linn and Naim are now telling people to switch to streaming their music, it’s not all the fault of the music Industry surely?


I know there are a lot of people out there that are going to hate me for this little remark, but between them, those two hi-fi company giants and their dealers killed the hi-fi industry. People wanted to turn on their systems and listen to some music. Not fiddle about for an hour just to make sure it was sounding right. And by heavens the companies are still at it. With the dealers and hi-fi press telling pundits it will not sound at its best until you upgrade to the big power supply. Buyers just want to switch it on, forget about it and listen to their music. At least when you buy Japanese and some British hi-fi the products are sorted and ready to use.

At least your publication has not yet gone down the road of all its reviewers owning and using Linn-Naim systems to judge other product against. Even though they know the shortcomings of this equipment, how then can they make statements about over blown bass or imaging when it is not the product’s strong point if it’s connected to Linn or Naim products.

Steve Baty

Skelmersdale

 

linn-sondek-lp12-se

Linn LP-12 cannot be as good as claimed by the press, says Steve Baty.

 

Phew, steady on Steve! You've obviously had a bad day at the office, haven't you? Still, it's fun to be accused of bias towards Michell earlier on in the letters section and now it's Linn – just shows you how different people read things, doesn't it? I certainly have never called the Linn 'the best turntable in the world', or suchlike, because I simply don't think it is. But I would say that in some areas, such as replaying subtle rhythmic interplay, it's still right up there with the best. You're spot on about soundstaging though – I don't think even loyal Linn employees would consider this its strong point. Put a GyroDec against the Linn and this is the very first thing you hear; the Gyro is exceptional in left-to-right soundstaging, whereas the Linn certainly is not! The way I look at it, we don't live in a world where there is "the best turntable in the world" anymore – that was a very nineteen seventies/ eighties construct. In reality, there are a number of superdecks all of which have their strengths and weaknesses, and the best is simply "the best for you". DP

 

There was a LInn/ Naim thing as we all know, although this really is history now. And funnily, I am not sure it is entirely down to Linn and Naim! They were strong, even aggressive, in the promotion of their products, but at the end of the day there is no law against this and I think I am right in saying our Editor David Price as much holds the UK press of the time responsible, due to their unquestioning sycophancy. I largely agree, as I was there too and remember experiencing it, although I didn’t buy this argument; I used various record decks including the Lux PD300 vacuum deck and an upright Mitsubishi LT5V Direct Drive (wall mounted! ) among others, plus EAR valve amplifiers. David is more certain in his perspective because he was viewing the UK from Japan at the time and realised it was a strictly local view not shared by the rest of the world.


And in any case, although my tastes lay elsewhere I am still not prepared now to agree with you and unequivocally damn Linn and Naim. They are what they are and have plenty of ardent admirers. Both companies put a lot into what they do and produce quality products in hardcore engineering terms. So let’s not try and reverse the polemic. The Berlin Wall came down long ago and we are in a less divided world now! NK


ALL HANDS ON DECK

I’m a typical middle-of-the-road kind of man. Although I read every single word of your excellent paper, I have to restrain myself. I cannot simply buy a phono amplifier that will cost more than my entire equipment, although I am convinced that it will sound good. So I am living in sub high-end land but it’s okay. I’m happy with that (but my heart ached the other day when listening to a friend’s Canton-Primare system. It took some days to forget that experience).


I am now a transistor man, although I still miss my two LEAK TL 12 Point One monoblocks. I got tired of nursing them all the time so I had to replace them (that was some years ago). Now I use a XTZ 100 D3, a rather old NAD CD-player with a Cambridge Dac Magic 3 and Sonab OA 12 speakers (designed by the Swedish loudspeaker guru, Stig Carlsson. I think Noel referred to him once as the “tweeter fetishist”). Although this design is nearly forty years old, it’s still sounding very modern and it got a new lease of life with a new treble unit especially made for this design.


I have nearly 2,000 vinyl records and I use an old Systemdek II with an Alphason Xenon arm and a Ortofon Kontrapunkt A. A Cambridge 640p was a superb upgrade a year ago. It is much much better than the internal one on the XTZ.


I am rather happy with my system and it now also has a firm bottom end with the help from a small but effective sub made by XTZ.

So what’s the problem? I think that I could benefit by changing my record player to something more modern. I read some good things about the Project RPM 5.1. My question is this – is this a good idea? Or should I aim higher (or lower)? Or should I stay put and concentrate on a new motor and power supply for the Systemdek. Origin Live has an “Advanced dc Motor Kit” for  £339. Is this the way to go?

Anders Gjres

Kungsngen

Sweden


michell-tecnodec

Michell's TecnoDec remains a great mid-price performer.

 

Ah yes - Sonab! I visited them on a press trip long long ago. Stockholm was a lovely city, but their factory was North of the Arctic Circle no less. The houses had windows triple glazed to keep out the extreme cold and ladders were bolted to the walls and roofs so the snow could be cleared. In winter it was dark all day. Wow - it was one of the more extreme places I have been to. There was no shortage of timber for loudspeakers though - trees everywhere! NK

 

Hi Anders - I'd go for a new turntable. Can you stretch to a Michell TecnoDec? It's a little above your budget but you'd find it well worth it. This would give you a dramatically more detailed and dimensional sound, allied more refinement and grip. I think. The Pro-ject wouldn't really give you a useful improvement on your Systemdek (if any), and the Systemdek is getting on a bit anyway – hence my recommendation to move to a modern design. The TecnoDec is beautifully built and would be a great partner for your Alphason arm. DP

 

STRANGE TONE

I have actually waited until a problem has gone away to ask you what the problem was caused by. But my curiosity means I cannot simply shrug my shoulders and move on.


My system used, until recently, to make an intermittent high pitched tone solely on the right channel. This only coincided with my amplifier, which is the youngest component in the set up, and arose equally between all the sources. The amp is a Shanling STP-10 valve amplifier. If it helps, the speakers it feeds are Klipsch Heresy IIs which I understand have an 8 Ohm rating and 95 decibels per watt efficiency. The volume at which I play the system cannot conceivably put a strain on either the amp or the speakers (though I realise that the amp is only 5 watts per side).


The sound was the same dynamic irrespective of the setting of the volume control. You could turn the volume down to nil and it would be the same volume as it was if the volume went up to a high setting. It was a high sound, but given my 50 years of age and the fact that it did not seem to me to be at the ceiling of my hearing I would guess it was somewhere between 8kHz and 10kHz. It might “arrive” for a period of as little as two seconds or for several (e.g. 15 seconds). Although it arrived fairly clearly in one go, it did not switch on and off in a hard edged manner. It probably had a phasing in time of 1/4 second or more. Although it was not very loud it was always very audible. Only loudish passages would mask it. You could not pretend it wasn’t there. It would arrive relatively shortly after switch on and come and go through a listening session. Mostly, it wasn’t there, and you could easily go half an hour with no issue. It was as prevalent in the winter as the other seasons, and since I do not have the radiator in my listening room switched on, I often listen in quite chilly temperatures, but the relative cold did not affect its coming and going. Although there is a transformer hum, it is only at all obvious when standing close to the amp. There is no hum through the speakers that I can detect.


My CD player is an Audio Note CD1, and the turntable and tuner are switched to it via the tape loop of an old Project 7 amp. I also use my iPod on the dedicated iPod dock. As I say, there is nothing remotely source dependent about this fault, so if the sources are causing it, that will be due to technical considerations well beyond my understanding.


I had wondered whether overheating was the culprit, but, really, nothing seemed to point so very much to that (as it did not worsen in warm weather or during a longer session).


Then, one day I decided to listen with the valve cage removed. I thought it would be a pointless experiment, but no it wasn’t. It has not, in several subsequent listening sessions, caused any problems. Can it really be that the valve cage was causing it to overheat, and if so, why was the result ostensibly unlinked to heat? But if not that, what could the cage have been doing? My only added point is that I cannot detect any other improvement with the cage off.

It may be idle curiosity, as I now remove the cage, but I would still like to know what could possibly explain the problem.

Yours sincerely

Graham Elliott

 

The usual explanation for this is instability in the amplifier, but as you seem to be saying it was a mechanical noise from the amplifier and it was not coming from the loudspeakers, and that it disappeared when you removed the valve cage, then it seems to be the cage ringing. I suspect, however, that it was whistling from the electrodes of a valve and removing the cage disturbed the valve. If it comes back try removing the output valves on one channel, then the other, or put a cloth around them in turn, for a few seconds, to see if this damps or stops the noise. You may need to replace a valve. NK

 

TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROAD

I am looking to upgrade my system for the long term. The system is composed of WD modular pre amp which has been fully upgraded and sounds great. WD 25T loudspeakers driven by bi-amped pair of Icon 845MBs. Front end is Michell GyroDec with Orbe spec. The arm is also Michell Tecnoarm with Ortofon Rondo Bronze moving coil cartridge. All this is strung together with Chord Chameleon Silver Plus and Odyssey 4 cables.


My question is, should I change the arm first and if so which one? I have considered Audio Origami, Funk FXR and Origin Live. With regards to the cartridge the only one that I have considered is the Benz Micro Wood SL. Should I change the arm first or the cartridge?


The system as it stands sounds lovely but I believe that a bit more performance is possible. My listening room measures 5m x 6.5m x 3m high. My musical taste ranges from jazz, blues, a sprinkling of classical, 60-70’s soul and of course Reggae from my homeland.


Your advice would be most appreciated and I look forward to my next copy or should I say my next fix of Hi-Fi World.

Henry Curniffe

 

Ah yes - Reggae. Reminds me of my misspent youth! Did I hear the other day that 'The Harder They Come' is going to be re-made? They don’t make music like that any more though, do they? Or am I just out of touch? NK

 

Well obviously readers, as you know I couldn't possibly comment on that previous remark made by Noel, so I best get on and answer this question! You've shortlisted some superb arms, and your choice really comes down to how much reggae you listen to! Basically, if you want a super-bouncy and thumpingly musical sound then it has to be the Funk. If you want a wonderfully spacious and even and open sound then it's Origin Live. And sat up there in the middle is the Audio Origami, which is the best all rounder. Get the arm first and then the cartridge; the Benz for all round use, whereas Lyra's Dorian is a hoot on pop, rock and reggae, and won't sound too bright in your system. DP

 

HONG KONG PHOOEY

I have had my present hi-fi system for over ten years and would like to replace it. My system comprises Musical Fidelity A3 CD player and an A3 integrated amp; Opera IIIa floorstanding loudspeakers and QED speaker cables and interconnects. The loudspeakers have never had a good write-up but with the present combination, they have given me a lot of pleasure over the years. I play music on the system every day.


I have been to audition three different systems at three distributors and they are:- (1) Naim Momentum 3i integrated amp and separate CD player with Pettit SX speakers with Naim’s cable (I have been to the shop twice) (2) Exposure 2010 S2 integrated amp and CD player, Chord speaker cable and interconnects and PMC GB1i loudspeakers (auditioned once) (3) Musical Fidelity M3i integrated amp and CD player, Dynaudio Excite 16 speakers and Dynaudio speaker cable and interconnects (auditioned once).


Having listened to these systems, the choice lies between 2 or 3. For system 2, all types of classical music sound very good, although I felt that orchestral music was not so wide or open but I will go again to listen to more orchestral music. System 3 is very good. I feel that the Musical Fidelity M3 set up is better than the Exposure 2010S2, so perhaps I should listen to Exposure 3010S2 in combination with the GB1i speakers. The Dynaudio speakers are very good but I feel that the GB1is are better, but the Dynaudio cable I feel may be better than Chord. I am wondering whether the best combination is the Musical Fidelity M3 with the PMC GB1i loudspeakers? My listening room is small (200-250 square feet), but I have no problem listening to my Opera loudspeakers I will go back to listen to the 2nd and 3rd options. I would be most grateful for any suggestions or advice you could offer.

Bryn Williamson

Hong Kong

 

kingsound-princess

For a small room Kingsound's Princess II electrostatic hybrid has real strengths.

 

That’s a limited range of loudspeakers to be listening to if you are a resident of Hong Kong, I think I am right in saying. You have many more brands available to you surely, including all those from IAG (Wharfedale, Castle, Mission, Quad) manufactured in Shenzhen and Gold Peak (KEF and Celestion). Then there is Kingsound, a local brand. And doubtless the rest of the world is represented too! Not to mention The People's Republic of China of course.  At least try to audition a Kingsound Princess II hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker if you can, as it has some real strengths. NK

 

It's very hard to give specific advice Bryn, as you don't specify your budget or precise musical tastes and your conundrum seems to be down to very specific synergy issues that can only really be settled with you listening to the respective components at a dealer, using your personal taste as a guide. All these products mentioned are very good and should give a long and happy listening life - it's down to you to decide which. If it was me, I'd go for a completely different approach (Cyrus CD 8 SE CD player, Icon Audio Stereo 300 integrated, Audiosmile Kensai or MyAudioDesign My1920 mini monitors), but then I'm not you! DP


RADIO ACTIVE

Thank you Hi-Fi World for a proper look at the legendary Yamaha CT-7000. Isn’t it a belter!? I obtained one of these a couple of years back (from Heatherdale pre-owned, fantastic service and help, sorry about the ad here but they were brilliant).


Over the years I’ve been through the usual suspects in tuners (Quads, Meridian, Revox) but nothing ever seems to match this beautiful behemoth, and boy is it heavy! A tinkerers dream with all sorts of knobs to play with the only thing with mine is that the stereo light takes a few minutes to kick in. Any ideas about this? It tunes in but just doesn’t light straightaway. (I have a 5 element twig mounted on the chimney). Awesome station pick-up, it seems to me, as it drags in all sorts of stations that my trusty old Quad FM3 ignores. A very interesting article all-round and reassuring to see that there is plenty of life left in some of this vintage gear.

My entire system is second-hand (except the ATC SCM 20 speakers) and consists of Michell GyroDec (the nice bronze version, don’t you just love that gold bling) with QC/ SME 309/ Dynavector 10x5 (all second hand), Audion Sterling Valve Phono Stage (that came from a swap), ATC S1A2-150 amp (old model, but better looking than the new one, even if they both rather look like welding sets,. ATC have never really embraced the aesthetic side of design, let’s be honest. Got this amp from an ad on Gumtree of all places.


CD is via Marantz CD85 (£180 off ebay and in immaculate nick, with nice rosewood cheeks) with a Meridian 203 Bitstream DAC (and that really does open things up).

By the way, the kitchen system is even weirder: a full FM3/ 303/ 33 set (that I purchased for £60 from a friend of a friend) powering two sets of Realistic Minimus wooden cabinet speakers (both sets off ebay, one pair just needed a re-sand and polish). It’s high time these little Tandy Babies were looked at seriously boys - how about it?

Simon Gregory

Skipton

 

yamaha-ct7000

 

The lovely Yamaha CT-7000 tuner drags in stations a Quad FM3 ignores, says Simon Gregory.


 

MOWGAN AUDIO ETAIN

If I could take some time to cover the two issues here with the Etain you reviewed in the August 2011 issue, which were the faulty tweeter of course, and the reversal in the tweeter which you found after replacing this tweeter.


The ribbon tweeter in question here is used on our OGMA loudspeaker too and is only fitted to our top models. To date we have received no complaints about this particular unit from our customer base, either from the longer established Ogma or the newly released Etain. All our end user customers units are measured just prior to shipping to ensure quality is maintained. Any reversal in the tweeter circuit, or any other discrepancy in either the impedance or frequency response would have been picked up at that point and corrected. However none of this excuses the fault you found in the tweeter unit.


The first replacement unit sent down was brand new and sealed in its original box as you probably discovered and as such we were totally unaware that there was a problem with this latest batch of drive units. Since we have been notified by yourself of the problem we immediately checked the remainder of our stock (the bulk of which was bought in to supply Etain demand) and found approximately 20% of them to exhibit the same fault, all of which came from the same later batch (earlier examples were found to be okay) and the matter has been taken up with our supplier. All our registered users of this tweeter will be e-mailed and any speakers found to exhibit this fault will be replaced at our expense.

mowgan-audio-etain

Mowgan Audio's Bill Bridge explains his tweeter trials and tribulations.

 

Moving on to the reversed tweeter connections. In order to meet with your production timelines the speakers sent for review were our factory test pair as indicated in my first exchange of e-mails to editor DP and were last tested on the 30th of April and measured okay at that point in time.


During design and ongoing development it is possible for our test models, and only our test models, to have driver polarities changed at various locations along the signal chain, and not necessarily at the same point within each speaker, however ultimate polarity will remain constant between the stereo pair. For example if a change to one crossover reveals a need for a reversal to the tweeter, we would do this on the crossover while it is out of the cabinet. However for the other speaker it would be easier for us to remove 4 bolts from tweeter and make the reversal on the binding posts there rather than undoing the whole cabinet unfitting the crossover, de-soldering then re-soldering etc etc. Likewise for the tweeter levelling resistor, this was fitted behind the tweeter on the factory pair but located on the crossover board on our production models. However on the customers' final units none of this would be necessary as the circuits and polarities are known. I cannot say for certain that we didn’t err sometime between 30th of April and the review date and introduced another reversal inadvertently although I cannot remember an occasion when we would have had the need to amend the speaker as it was finalised at that time. Regardless of how this came about in this pair this is not possible on our end user speakers as they are checked just prior to dispatch to the customer and any such error would be discovered then.


Hopefully you will see from the above that the tweeter problem is new to us and is a result of a faulty batch of drive units from our suppliers. You will also note that any similar faults found on existing customer units will be repair FOC by us including any shipping where necessary. Finally you should be aware that when the problem was highlighted to us, that our response was immediate and replacement parts were with you the following morning.

I hope the above alleviates any doubt you have about our quality of products and our customer service.

Bill Bridge

Mowgan Audio.

 

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