September 2011 issue - Page 3

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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



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



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


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




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


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