September 2011 issue - Page 2

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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, 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




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



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



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



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


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