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October 2011 issue

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October 2011 issue
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World Mail    October 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.

 


icon-transformer

Valve amplifiers are heavily dependent upon transformer quality, and Icon Audio make their own.

 

SYCOPHANTIC REVIEWS?

Having been an ardent reader of Hi-Fi World since jumping ship back in 92’ and not missing an issue to date, I feel it is pertinent to raise a couple of issues that have concerned me recently and have started to spoil almost 20 years of my reading pleasure from the most competent and realistic audio magazine on the market.


My first concern is regarding companies that advertise with you and the almost sycophantic praise they receive with their products e.g. Inspire Hi-Fi and Icon Audio. I have nothing against either manufacturer, but it does seem their reviews appear unchallenged and dare I say biased. I accept hi-fi is purely subjective in terms of preference to sound, yet I find neither brand offers anything out of the ordinary with the exception of the PS3 phono stage which I thought to be good value.


My next concern/shock regards AS’s review of the X100 tonearm in this month's issue. I’ve enjoyed many an article from the pen of AS but this review makes ludicrous claims (“the new standard”) about what is surely an uninspiring attempt to copy the Funk FXR, which you made tonearm of the year recently and as a result of DP’s review and audition, I duly purchased. Yet AS makes no mention of this, other than what can only be perceived as an insidious attack on the Funk and other designs that use the Rega platform!


What’s going on then? Am I just being cynical? Or is there something readers like myself (which have collectively brought HFW to where it is today) should know about? Please get back to doing what you do better than the rest – review hi-fi that is affordable or at least attainable over the passage of time and many months saving!

Regards

Joe Cohen

 

Considering the Funk Firm FXR arm, I agree that it is a fine product; well worthy of our award last year and you can be rightly proud that you own an item designed by one of the finest vinyl minds in the hi-fi industry. I have often said that if some others showed even half the engineering ingenuity exhibited by The Funk Firm’s Arthur Khoubesserian, the world would be a much more interesting place.

 

The trouble is, having spent time with both the FXR and the Inspire X100 in my own system, it all boiled down to the fact that I simply preferred the X100, with no other underlying axe grinding. In fact, I deliberately chose not to mention the FXR in the review, lest this come across to readers as an intended slight, which was most certainly not the case.

 

funk-firm-fxr-tonearm

The Funk FXR is the arm Joe Cohen purchased after we praised it. And it remains a great arm...

 

I cannot help feeling that your description of the X100 as an “uninspiring copy” of the FXR is incorrect at best and insulting at worst. I know for a fact that it was been under development for a considerable time and also that Robert Isherwood is certainly not the sort of designer who sneers at another product and thinks “I can make a better copy of that”. Whilst ostensibly visually similar, the FXR and X100 have different bearings, different wiring, different arm tube materials and geometry and different headshell construction; with all this taken into consideration I can’t help thinking you are letting appearances deceive you. AS

 

Hi Joe If we’re handing out plaudits based on advertising as you fear, we’d not be handing out plaudits to those companies not advertising. This is self-evidently not the case, nor has it ever been. Hi-Fi World has probably done more to champion the cause of ‘classic’ (i.e. used, old, obsolete) audio than any other magazine. So if our editorial was advertising driven, Noel wouldn’t be championing Garrard 401s (who knows, maybe he’s tried to get Plessey advertising with us!), I wouldn’t be singing the praises of a long-deceased pair of Yamaha speakers and indeed Hi-Fi World wouldn’t have promoted, variously, valves, vinyl, direct drive turntables and cassette, when there was precisely zero business to be transacted from them! And why do you think all the other mags went into AV when we did not? For the advertising!

 

Of all the magazines around, I think it’s hard to argue that we take a hard-nosed, advertising driven editorial stance, given that we spend so much time and magazine space writing about things you can’t buy new any more!

 

Instead of getting all conspiratorial, I’d suggest you asked more questions about why we like particular brands at certain times – which would prompt us to explain ourselves better, perhaps.

 

Thanks for asking the question you did in a civilised and courteous way, which is more than some internet forum conspiracists. I’d simply say that – whilst there are always some subjective disagreements – you’re perfectly at liberty to research our findings using your own ears and I think you’ll find we’re far more right than wrong about things. Certainly, the large amount of mail we get suggests that most of our readers think this to be the case. DP

 

Hi Joe. Those that get good reviews tend to advertise with us. It’s this way around, not the other way around! And all is not quite so simple as it may appear. For example, we gave Icon Audio mediocre reviews for some years and owner David Shaw was upset and annoyed by them. He did in the end improve transformer quality by changing supplier and this brought about the sound quality improvement needed and glowing reviews.

 

Behind this lies quite a complicated story in truth, as you might suspect as he now has his own engineering team and factory in China, my report reveals in this issue, so he is more proactive than most. He does not now use subcontractors, keeping both quality and price under firm control. I feel our enthusiasm for his products is more than justified.

 

He told me recently that it was a World Audio Design KT88 amplifier that set him off along the valve path – and we used Britain’s best designer, Andy Grove, and its best transformer manufacturer, Morite, to produce the transformers of our amplifiers. This is where and how the standard was set.

 

Since Hi-Fi World is well known worldwide – including China – as a magazine expert in valve technology it is hardly surprising that Icon Audio get the best response from advertising with us. It is simple commercial logic; they’re not going to place an ad in Woman’s Own...

 

I do understand that continual praise of a certain limited range of products looks suspiciously like some form of favouritism, but if you look closely you will see this is not so. Rega, for example, get constant praise and I know owner Roy Gandy well, but do they advertise? No!

 

If praise is “sycophantic” then do you suggest we should not praise good products? Should I not have praised Creek’s Destiny 2 amplifier that I thought was wonderful (and they don’t advertise either), because this would be sycophantic? How do we convey outstanding quality then?

 

You might like to read below the opinion of someone who bought the Inspire turntable modification package that DP raved about recently. NK

 

LINN LP12 INSPIRE

I bought May’s Hi-Fi World, the one with a review of the Vivid LP12 upgrade, and was very impressed with the review. I have a large vinyl collection, and always enjoy reading vinyl-related articles, so last month’s magazine was especially interesting. I know you have always favoured vinyl as a format, even through the lean times of CD dominance. Now, it seems that vinyl is truly making a comeback judging on the number of new releases and re-releases being issued in the format. At last, sense is returning. Digital will always win out on convenience, but there’s something so right about a decent vinyl set-up. Mind you, I’ve been listening to vinyl for over 40 years, so maybe I’m just tuned into it. Also, holding and reading a CD insert pales in comparison with holding and reading an album cover. I know, it’s nothing to do with the music, but it adds to the experience.


Now, to the main point of this letter. I have an LP12 which I bought around ‘83 or ‘84, and thought it was reasonably well sorted; Cirkus bearing, Trampolinn base, Ittok LVII arm and Lingo power supply.


inspire-vivid-lp12upgrade

Roger's Linn LP12 turntable got an Inspire upgrade.


Your review indicated that the Vivid upgrade would achieve quite considerable improvements, and I must admit I had my doubts that improvements to that extent could be achieved in my case. After all, I thought my LP12 was pretty good. Anyway, I decided to find out, so I made contact with Robert at Inspire Hi-Fi, who suggested I bring my LP12 for a comparative audition. As I live only 30 minutes from his unit this wasn’t a problem, and a date and time was agreed.


I have to say, I was absolutely amazed at the difference I heard after only one track. What did I hear? An invisible veil had been removed from in front of the speakers, the whole sound was tightened up, timing was improved as was instrument placement. The music flowed, it had my foot tapping and sounded so much better. The thought of returning home with my LP12 was too much to bear, and so I placed an order and left it with Inspire.


Robert did an excellent job fitting the new parts and rebuilding my LP12. I’ve now been listening to my Vivid LP12 at home for a few weeks, and am still amazed at the improvements in sound quality. It’s going to take a while, but I want to go through my record collection.


I decided to re-read your review, and was amazed at how accurate it is. That doesn’t sound good, let me re-phrase it. I’m amazed at how closely I can relate to the contents of the review. I’ve seen so many glowing reviews in magazines that I think I’ve become a little immune to them, and sometimes 5 stars (or globes) are awarded for products, which if I invested in I feel would only provide subtle improvements. However, in the case of the Vivid LP12 upgrade, it’s worth every penny, and the improvements would be even more marked when carried out on a lower spec’d deck than mine. I shall be eternally grateful (well, for a long time anyway) that I bought your magazine and read the review. Keep up the good work at Hi-Fi World and many thanks to Robert at Inspire Hi Fi.

Roger

 

The quality of the LP12 Vivid mods package was such that I felt a detailed four page 'rave review' was necessary. It's a great value package – you only need to look at what Linn Products charge for their mods to see the sort of value for money the Inspire kit represents – and I had to say so. It is a really great product, even if some seem to think praising it amounts to bias! DP


BOUNCING BACK

I am coming back into the hi-fi market after some years. I have some funds to improve my system and would like some advice regarding upgrading it. The system is quite old but functions well. It comprises a Linn LP12, Cirkus, Lingo, Trampolinn, Ittok, Dynavector Karat, Naim 32.5 preamp, 140 power amp, Hi-Cap psu, Epos 14 speakers, Teac D700 CD drive and Benchmark Dac Pre. The Naim amps were completely rebuilt by Naim 2 years ago. The result of this service was superb and is thoroughly recommended. However, I have the impression the Naims have a certain heavy feel about the sound that may not be in more modern equipment. The speakers are very old and I am sure modern components will be more expressive.

 

I have a feeling the amp or the speakers should be first. I have thought of a Naim 200/202 and Hi-Cap or an ATC 2150 integrated or even a Leema Tucana as potential upgrades. What are your thoughts? If I change the amp, could you recommend a phono preamp for under £1,000 that will deliver a similar or better sound than the Naim preamp?

 

With regards to replacing the Ittok, can you recommend an alternative that is not in the same price league as the current Ekos? Are any of the Origin Live arms good alternatives and would they work with the Karat which I think is a great cartridge. Incidentally do the SME arms work with Linn decks or are they too heavy?

 

For the speakers, I am at something of a loss to know where to start. My room is 15’ by 13’. I like the traditional Naim characteristics of speed, tempo, foot tapping factor but also want a good voice reproduction. I have read of the ProAc Studio 140, the Neat Isobaric range, some of the PMC speakers that have good bass from small cabinets or perhaps something in the Spendor range.

 

On the CD replay front, I am fairly happy with my current equipment. However, the drive is quite old and has been rebuilt once some years back. Can you recommend an alternative to go with the Benchmark?

 

I also want to stream computer music to the DAC from a PC on another floor in the house. The DAC does not have an ethernet connector. Could a Logitech Squeezebox deliver a good solution? Do you have any experience of using Devolo Powerline adaptors to connect the computer to the system over the mains as my wife is not keen on having network cabling run around the house. Perhaps a Sonos wireless system would be the answer?

 

I am interested in new products but could easily go secondhand, especially for the amplifier or the speakers.

Your comments will be most welcome.

Robert Harris

 

It’s very difficult to recommend a change from your Naims without you listening first, as they have such a distinctive sound (particularly the older, eighties-era Naims such as yours) which you might rather like. You certainly can’t get the classic Naim sound from a new Leema Tucana, so you have to ask yourself just what you’re trying to achieve by changing them? Certainly the Tucana would give a sweeter and more expansive sound than your Naims, with a solid bottom end and a more extended top, but it likely won’t have that seat-of-the-pants feel your current classic combo offers. I really think you’ve got to go to a dealer to find out; try to audition a modern Naim separates equivalent and take it from there.

My suggestion for a phono stage would unhesitatingly be the ANT Audio Kora 3T Ltd., at around £1,000; this is smoother, more dimensional and far more organic sounding than your NAC32.5 phono stage, yet just as grippy and fun to listen to.

 

leema-tucana-ii

Leema Tucana amplifier – a favourite with reviewer Tony Bolton and a great sounding amplifier with an expansive sound.

 

The Origin Live arms are excellent, and I’d say the Encounter Mk3c would be your logical choice at £1,345; in his Timestep SL1200 review a few months back, Rafael Todes found it more musical and natural than the SME309, so it’s not just me who likes them! You’d find the OL arm to be more expansive, dimensional and detailed than the Ittok LVII, and lacking its characteristic ‘zing’. I do like the Ittok, but it’s no match for a serious modern arm with a low-resonance armtube. SME arms do work on Linns. but I don’t find them a particularly synergistic match. As an alternative to the OL, the Funk Firm FXR II (£1,175) would be one to try; it’s a little less tonally transparent and a touch more upfront, but riotously good fun to listen to.

 

I would not advise Spendors if you’re graduating up from Epos ES14s; you might find them a touch too tame. ProAcs are good, as are Neats, but my taste would be Yamaha Soavo 2s (£1,200) with your particular front end. Cyrus’s CD XT se CD (£1,550) is the best affordable silver disc transport, in my view.

 

There are many possibilities for your network music player - Cambridge Audio’s NP30 (£400) feeding your DAC is probably the right sort of solution for you; Squeezeboxes are good but it’s worth spending a little more on the Cambridge if you possibly can, for superior sound. I’d personally err against the Devolo powerline solution, simply because you don’t want too much ‘noise’ on the mains if you’re a serious analogue listener. The Sonos system is nice and slick but a little pricey; the Logitech Squeezebox Touch is a good cheap alternative. DP


PERSONAL GAIN

I used to be very happy with my vinyl system, and I still should be, but unfortunately I’m not. My system was a Townshend Elite Rock/ Excalibur/ Dynavector DV20X High Output Moving Coil. The rest is Quicksilver V4 Monoblocks, Quicksilver Full Function Pre Amp, Celestion A3 speakers, the other sources aren’t relevant here. The turntable sat on a Voodoo Airtek platform.

 

I ended up with two Townshend Rock References, one SME V tonearm, one Excalibur. After a demonstration, some debate and advice over coffee with the very nice Audio Origami chappie, it was decided that The Reference with the SME V would stay, and this came with a Transfiguration AF1 cartridge, with the tip in very good condition under a 60 x Magnifier. It also sounded brilliant in the demo, which was using as additional equipment, old Yamaha NS1000M speaker driven by a large Marantz solid state amplifier, not sure what!

 

All sounded fine, Rock Reference, SME V, Transfiguration, splendid, always liked the Elite Rock and thought this would be similar, just a little “moreish”. I think his Solid State amp had a lot of gain.

 

I got all this home and after final hook up, the Transfiguration sounds really nice, but a tad dull and lacks high frequency extension, it's a bit like listening through a veil. At higher volume it sounds similar, but, there is noise starting to swamp through the signal, not crackly, just a constant shhh. I thought Signal to Noise Ratio, low O/P MC cartridge, get a step up transformer. Got a Partridge Transformer step up 1:50, which should provide oodles of gain for my valve pre input (never had this with the Dynavector). I got the gain, but also got an awful lot of hum with it, unbearably so.

 

I am trying to find a solution, I could obviously swap back in the Dynavector, but having heard what the Transfiguration could do at the demo, I know I’d rather find a solution. Should I be thinking of an alternative solution to increase my gain or is the fault lying with earth loop hum issues. Can I apply some design to the Valve amp and come up with a higher gain Valve I/P stage myself to give me the gain I need without introducing the hum, or should I be looking at alternative inputs.

I loved the Quicksilvers, I like what they did with my old set up, I am really looking to get my frustrating problems resolved. Always wanted a Rock Reference and I’m sure my issue is gain, so that’s what I’m after - gain without hum. For other readers, beware of the pitfalls of Low O/P MC's, careful what you wish for.

Ewan Scott

Aberdeen

 

Other readers are using Moving Coil cartridges without your problems Ewan. Valve phono stages are too noisy for quality MC cartridges unless an input transformer is used, as you found out.

 

Putting a transformer between cartridge and amplifier may break the ground connection. If this is the case, then the grounds simply need to be reconnected by using a wire to link the signal cable screens to the amplifier input earth at the phono sockets.

 

musicfirst-moving-coil

A high quality Moving Coil step-up transformer from Music First Audio can be put in front of a valve phono stage to eliminate hiss.

 

If the transformer had an earth link between primary and secondaries then you have a hum loop and a mains ground needs to be broken somewhere. This is more difficult and contentious, because it potentially compromises safety. The usual solution in amplifiers to use an earth lift resistor and I think I am right in saying the Icon Audio ground switch does this. I should explain that an ‘earth lift’ doesn’t disconnect the earth; it allows enough current to flow to cause a 13A fuse to blow should chassis work become live, but it usefully attenuates low voltage earth currents that cause hum.

 

The ideal solution would be to buy an Icon Audio valve phono stage and plug its output into a line input of course. But you may just be able to eliminate hum by rearranging the earths. I presume you are not suffering hum induction, which is a different problem. If this is the case, moving the transformer around, especially turning it 90 degrees, is likely to help. You would need to experiment to find the best position. The input transformer must be placed as far away as possible from mains transformers, to avoid their hum fields. NK

 

POWER GAMES

I wondered if you’d like to air your opinion about a frequently stated view on amp and speaker matching. I’ve read in other hi-fi journals - and I hope I understand it correctly - that in order for short, louder passages of music not to sound “squashed”, mega-watt amps are required. These would include those where specs beyond 250 Watts per channel are the norm. Those who express this viewpoint have far more experience of hi-fi and products available than myself, and my intention is not to belittle that – but aren’t a few wires being crossed here?

 

In the 1980’s as a teenager, I bought a Sharp Radio Cassette, specified as 60 watt PMPO (Peak Music Power Output I think that stood for) per channel. Having a sneaky peak at the back of the speaker drive units, they stated a power handling of about 8 Watts RMS, which means the amp driving them was probably less than that in RMS terms. What I am getting at is that surely the above referred to crescendoes in music that “only the mega watt amps reproduce correctly” have more to do with peaks (PMPO) than RMS power. The articles I’ve read don’t appear to make this distinction when advising of a suitable WPC rating.

 

My Rega Mira 3 amplifier is rated at 61 watts RMS per channel - which, by my rough calculations, ought to have a PMPO of about 5 times that - 300 watts! Surely this is enough to reproduce peaks satisfactorily in the average living room (14-20ft)? Am I right in thinking that when the mega-watt amp argument states that, for example, 500 WPC is needed to reproduce short peaks, what they actually mean is Peak Output?

 

Craftily, they mention a few “well-chosen” amps that reproduce 500 watts RMS, hoping that their readership will not notice the difference? Thus, hi-fi punters are encouraged to believe that a power upgrade from their “meagre” 80 or so WRMS amp is necessary!

 

I would have thought that the chief issue is making sure that the chosen speakers are capable of handling more than enough watts RMS per channel for any given amp output, also expressed in WRMS. I have never known any but the beer-budget ghetto blaster manufacturers of yore to quote PMPO - so I am supposing that the mega-watt amp argument can safely be ignored.

 

Furthermore, as one of my favoured dealers said when I auditioned the Mira 3, specifications are “just numbers” - what’s more important is whether they reproduce the sound you are after. If they measure well, it’s a bonus!

 

By the way, when I eventually upgrade my speakers, I will be looking for a little extra emotional involvement, particularly in the vocals, and a little extra scale in the stereo imaging department. My Rega R3’s are a great speaker, and tonally hit all my right buttons. But they’re a tad short; therefore, when seated, performers appear about 3ft high and don’t project into the room as perhaps they ought.

 

Can I leave you with a couple of my favourite demo suggestions - primarily for the music, but also for aspects of hi-fi goodness? These are Nitin Sawhney’s 'Beyond Skin' album (for bass and stereo reproduction, plus its tendency to change mood from colossally loud crescendoes to near silence at a pinhead) and Jamie Cullum’s song 'Fascinating Rhythm'. Performing live, Cullum often dances around the piano, knocking on the wooden casework, plucking the strings inside, and the production on the above mentioned track mirrors this rather well!

Mark Pearce

 

The issue of power can get very complicated, especially when we start talking about peak-to-mean ratios, which are typically are very high (45dB or so) with demo CDs like Hugh Masekela's 'Stimela' (Train To Zimbabwe) so popular at shows, yet very low with much compressed Rock, at 15dB or so. These are commonly quoted figures, but let’s look at them quickly.

 

Modern loudspeakers typically produce 87dB SPL at 1m from 1 Watt input power. This will drop by approximately 4dB at 2m and 8dB at 4m. At 4m distance you will perceive 79dB from one loudspeaker, and 82dB from a stereo pair. You need to hear around 95dB on peaks if music is to sound loud, or 13dB more power than 1 Watt, which is 20 Watts. I have checked all this many times with real, live measurements whilst reviewing to ensure I am working within equipment limits, using peak reading ‘scopes and a Bruel & Kjaer SPL meter and they are real values, I can assure you. In a 28ft square room and at 12ft from the loudspeakers I rarely get more than 10V maximum (17 Watts) into each loudspeaker and actually find myself listening at much less.

 

The power required jumps up rapidly if you want to go much louder. Add 3dB and you need 40 Watts, add another 3dB and you need 80 Watts (giving 101dB SPL peaks). I find it difficult to survive these levels but some may not. For 107dB peaks you then need 320 Watts but it is horribly loud! I suspect most people listen at modest levels and need very little power. High volumes become a real nuisance to others in adjacent rooms, buildings etc and this alone commonly puts a practical limit on usable volume.

 

musical-fidelity-ams50

A low power amplifier that sounds very powerful, the Musical Fidelity AMS50, simply because it has huge, high current power supply.

 

High power amplifiers often sound tighter and punchier even at low levels, but this is down to their beefier power supplies being able to deliver more instant current. The Musical Fidelity AMS50 we use is an example: it delivers barely 50 Watts but sounds far more powerful because it has such a massive power supply and can swing plenty of instantaneous current.

 

If you like tall loudspeakers that image well try Triangle Antals.  They produce a massive sound stage and very clean dynamics. NK


triangle-antel

Triangle Antal loudspeakers stand tall at 1.2meteres and give great sound quality over a big sound stage.


AS YOU LIKE IT

I have been interested in hi-fi since 1992 when, at the tender age of fifteen, I saved up for a Marantz CD52MkII (which, incidentally, still provides CD-spinning duties in my home cinema system in the lounge). Time spent studying, working abroad and being generally broke has meant I have never really had the opportunity to build the kind of system I would like, however, and even today my Aura VA100 Evolution, which is virtually the same age as the Marantz, continues to sit at the heart of my proper hi-fi, driving a pair of more recent Quad 11L2 speakers and Grado GR80i headphones in a small 6x3m listening room.

 

The Aura has seen better days; there's a lot of crackle and the left channel is prone to drop out whenever the volume control is rotated, though it will settle down once the right volume has been set  but for now I think a thorough clean-up of its rusty innards will have to suffice, until funds allow me to replace it with something like the Creek Destiny 2 you reviewed a couple of months back, perhaps driving a pair of Spendor SA1s, which I liked very much when I heard them on the end of a Naim Supernait and think would cope well with having to be placed close to a rear wall. Any thoughts on how such a combination might work? And any suggestions of other equipment I should listen to as and when I am in a position to buy (remembering this would be at the top end of my budget)?

 

What I would really like advice on, however, is how to improve the digital front end of the system on a budget of about £700. About three quarters of my listening is to CD via a 1998 Arcam Alpha 7, though I also listen to my iPod quite a bit (via its headphone jack at the moment) and very occasionally to my old Sony Minidisc player as I have concerts and book dramatisations recorded from Radio 3 and 4 on MD. I don’t listen to my computer at all, not least because it doesn’t have speakers, but it is on a desk just next to the hi-fi and I guess there are occasions when it would be useful to have it plugged in, although I think it unlikely it would become a regular listening source.

 

So I think my options are basically a good external DAC like the Arcam rDac, Rega Dac or Musical Fidelity M1 Dac or a CD player with digital inputs  I could stretch to both the Audiolab 8200CD or Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite (which is down to £700 and unlike the others wouldn’t need an additional iPod dock to strip the digital signal as its front-mounted USB port does this).

 

You’ve reviewed most of these I think so could you advise me which you think would offer the best sound quality, and which might best suit my system. I listen to a wide variety of music, lots of classical, especially small-scale chamber music, but also jazz, latin, soul and rock: everything from Schubert to Supertramp to the Stylistics in other words. Do you think the SACD-capabilities of the Marantz might make it worth considering even if its CD playback isn’t quite as strong as the Audiolab, say, or my Arcam feeding one of the external Dacs? I don’t own any SACDs but flicking through BBC Music magazine’s round-up of the latest classical releases made me realise that, in this genre at least, SACD is alive and kicking, and I notice that the upcoming remastering of Pink Floyd’s studio albums will be available on SACD.

James Philips


spendor-sa1

Spendor SA1 would sound nice with an Aura VA100 amplifier, says David.

 

An Aura VA100 driving the Spendor SA1s should work well, although nowhere near as well as the Creek Destiny 2 doing the same job; the latter is superb and in another league to the Aura, which was always good for the price but nothing too special sonically. My personal favourites at roughly that price would be the Audiosmile Kensai (£2,100) if you have a small room, or the Monitor Audio PL100 (£2,600) if you have a larger but still compact room. If you couldn’t afford these new then there’s always the secondhand market.

If you’re looking for a standalone DAC, then the CEntrance DACmini is the class of the £700 field right now, although given that your silver disc spinner is ageing I’d go for a replacement CD player and for this I’d recommend the Audiolab 8200CD (or CDQ if you need DAC functionality) for around £900. The SACD question is another debate in itself; if you’re a big classical fan and expect to buy half of the Linn Records catalogue in future (with all those SACDs), then yes, seriously contemplate the very fine Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite. But if it’s just a passing interest then I’d say the Audiolab 8200CD CD player would do better on standard Red Book CDs. DP

 

ALLURE

I’m looking to upgrade my phono stage. My system - Linn Sondek upgraded drastically, Graaf MB50b using KT90s. I know that you tend to recommend the Icon PS3, but is it easier to listen to than say the Emille which is certainly easier to look at?  I listen mostly to 60’s 70’s jazz but not exclusively.

Dave Gibson

 

The Emille Allure is more expensive than the Icon Audio stages and reflects this in its sound. It is less mellow and dark of tone, more sunny in its nature, meaning it has a lovely open sparkling quality with a delicious euphonic tone, and not the sharpness or hardness of treble so common in much high end equipment. Emille know how to tune subjectively and do so for a lighter demeanour than Icon Audio. If you have the cash it is a great way to splash. But what cartridge are you using? A phono stage like the Emille Allure deserves use with the best moving coils. NK

 

emille-allure-phonostage

The Emille Allure phono stage has a beautiful sound but is expensive. It is one of the very best.

 

GOING DOWN A SIZE

Hello, I’m moving my hi-fi to a small room (8 x 10 foot) and need to change my Sugden Class A monoblock pre-power amplifiers for an integrated or pre-power with a small footprint. I noticed that in the March 2011 issue of Hi-Fi World that the Creek Destiny 2 amplifier, favourably reviewed by Noel Keywood, was quoted as having reducing distortion at progressively lower power levels, therefore promising very good sound quality at lower listening levels.

 

For someone used to a very high quality Class A Solid State amplifier, does this solid state device from Creek make better sense from a sound quality perspective than a valve integrated amp such as an Icon Audio Stereo 40 MK 111 or similar? Or, should I really look to a 300B or similar (valve type, PP or SE) monoblock power amp pair with a small footprint and preamp? Basically I need to be able to get the amps and CD-only source, on a 3-tier Townshend rack with top surface 60cm wide by 45 cm deep, assumed to be necessary positioning for valve power amps. Sound quality is the all important criteria for me, musical tastes truly variable, I listen at less than 90dB peaks, I own three loudspeakers; Pinsh Model 1, Quad 11L Mk1 and Acoustic Precision FR1 can all be employed, I use the Pinsh pair at the moment.

Simon Bance

 

Hi Simon – that is a small room and Sugden amplifiers are hard to easily improve upon. The Creek would be an option but it is far too powerful for you. I suggest you consider a small Class A Single-Ended (SE) valve amplifier, like the excellent Almarros from Japan. They are compact at 36cms wide and 33cms deep, so will fit your rack easily. It is usual to place valve amplifiers lower down in a rack (or on the floor) and they demand 20cms clear space above at least, so this is a minimum shelf spacing. You get 20 Watts of the finest sound quality ever from these amplifiers, the 318b being an amplifier I remember well. Not for nothing are SE amplifiers said to offer the best sound, but they do need to be good ones. NK

almarro-318b

For ultimate quality in a small room, an Almarro 318b Single-Ended pure Class A amplifier is ideal.

 

ARMS AND THE MAN

I am running a Michell Orbe with the full Perspex base and have been using an SME M2/9 with an Ortofon Jubilee until now. As an aside, this arm was a bit grey sounding but has improved drastically when I changed the external VDH cable to a VDH Orchid. However, I have purchased an Origin Live Conqueror (weight specified as 950g plus say 10g for the Ortofon cartridge). The Rega armboard I had spare is too heavy for the suspension with this so I need some help from someone who has solved this dilemma. Is there an alternative armboard available for the OL Conqueror? Does it require taller spacers to get the correct arm height above the platter? Do I need additional weight on the opposite side of the chassis to balance the heavier arm? If so, please suggest mass. Any other tips for setting it up? Or am I an optimist?


Just for the sake of being comprehensive, most of my personal listening is done via the following: the Jubilee feeds an EAR 88PB phono pre, Chord Signature to a Carry Xciter and Sennheiser HD800 with Cardas cable upgrade. It is toe curlingly good and I hope the Conqueror will add a permanent smile to my face.

 

Prior to the Jubilee I had a Sumiko Blackbird running into a GSP Era Gold which cured me from moving magnets. I also tried the Blackbird into a Synthesis Brio tubed phono stage. This gave the most emotional sound I have ever heard and was especially beautiful with the late Dame Joan Sutherlands performances. However, I could not really sit there shivering and crying all the time while listening to music so I gave it a pass (a lack of technical info and reviews on the Synthesis also contributed).

 

What about a future article on transformer step ups and selecting the optimum transformer impedance?

Adrian J van Tonder

Melbourne

Australia

 

Hearing a tube phono stage for the first time, the Audio Innovations P2 I reviewed in our Feb 1996 issue, stunned me. I had never heard an all-valve stage with valve regulated power supply before and what it did seemed magic. Nowadays they are becoming ever more popular and those that use them would understand what you are saying about hearing live vocals through such a device. They seem able to differentiate between live and processed better than solid-state stages, where everything sounds processed, even when it is live! But that’s the killer transistor for you.

 

Music First Audio have sent us a super transformer stage that disappeared pretty sharpish into the lair of our editor and there’s been a lingering silence ever since. We can expect to hear more soon, I suspect. NK

 

Hi Adrian - one phone call or email to Michell Engineering (www.michell-engineering.co.uk) will get you your Origin Live armplate, in the correct weight and height. You don't need extra plinth balance weights if you get the right arm plate, and my suggestion for the best set-up of the arm would be to read the instructions thoroughly! DP

 

ANY QUESTIONS

Last year, in the January edition, you were kind enough to publish quite a long letter of mine. In it I touched on DIY and World Audio Designs kits, in particular the WD25T. I'm writing to ask if you could help with five things:

 

- I've tracked down the components for the WD25T (I already had a pair of Millennium tweeters) and plan to pick them up while on a trip to the US next week. When World Audio Designs was operational, did you have a friendly cabinet maker who built the boxes? If so, are they still in business, and might they be willing at least to cut the panels for me? I have all the original drawings, but getting the panels pre-cut would make the project much easier.

 

- When assembling arcena, was the MDF on the inside or the outside?

 

- Can you remember who supplied the reticulated foam for the port?

 

- A couple of years ago, I was in touch with Peter Comeau about working out a crossover for some speakers I had built, using SEAS bass units and the Millennium tweeter. Subsequently, he went off to IAG  but do you know if he's ever back in the UK, and whether he is still willing to do freelance work? If so, do you have a contact email for him?

 

- I think one of the lost British geniuses of amplifier design is Brian Powell of Crimson, whose products as far as I can see are only available in Canada. Not long ago I put together a couple of amps using his boards. I'd like to re-house them in slightly better metal boxes, with a rebuilt power supply and much larger transformers. Do you know of a firm that will do custom-designed metal cases for a reasonable price?

 

I would very much appreciate your help with these things if you have time. I remain a loyal reader of Hi-Fi World, which I still think ranks with Hi-Fi News+RR as the only Hi-Fi comics worth reading. Incidentally, is there a way I could get my hands on a copy of the February 2010 edition, as somehow I missed it?

 

Finally, and following my letter that you published, I continue to use my Sony MZ-RH1 as the device for turning my vinyl into 44.1KHz WAV files. Its plugged into the tape loop of my amp, driven by an Akiva. The results are rather better than using one of those dreadful USB turntables. I'd be interested to know whether you've tried this, and what you think of the results. The CDs I've made from the files can sometimes sound friendlier than the commercial CD version, and remind me of a discussion I had years ago with Julian Vereker not long after he'd started experimenting with their own recording onto CD (somewhere I still have that earlier Naim T-shirt captioned The Pits over a close-up of a CD). If only Sony could have built the capacity to record at 96 or even 192KHz into the MZ-RH1.

Charlie Haswell

 

Hi Charlie. For loudspeaker cabinets speak to Richard at Arcaydis (see http://www.arcaydis.com). Alternatively, try your local timber merchants, those with a wood cutting service. Getting bespoke cabinets made is expensive.

 

The same applies to metalwork. A one-off prototype chassis stamped and folded to our specs, from engineering drawings, cost us around £500 in the past. That does not include any finishing, such as paint or silk screening. Do you want to pay this? It is common to buy an aluminium case from RS Components and cut, drill and finish it by hand to avoid such costs.

 

Peter Comeau now heads up acoustic design at IAG and you can read more about him in this issue in my China report. He does not provide outside design work. I got the feeling he is more than busy with the design load as things stand.

 

And don't forget World Design and its forum are still running; see http://www.world-designs.co.uk. NK

world-designs-wd25tv2

The World Audio Design WD25T loudspeaker, designed by Peter Comeau before he disappeared into China to work for IAG.

 

Hi Charlie - the Sony MZ-RH1 is an excellent little gadget, and capable of very good recordings at 16/44 uncompressed PCM. It's a great shame it didn't come out five years earler, whereupon it may have taken the portable world by storm. Whilst a full size DAT recorder might do slightly better (especially a Sony one with SBM) it's certainly no toy and I hope it gives you years of service! DP


CABLES

Many thanks for printing my letter in June’s edition. However, perhaps I should have made it clearer that my suggested test scenario only applied to mains cables.

I appreciate that interconnects and speaker leads may well have an effect, as they carry actual sonic information. But how can a mains cable affect sound?


From an engineering point of view the requirements of a good power supply are to provide a high quality DC output that is designed to be immune to the wild vagaries of domestic AC mains supplies. To this end power supplies have evolved with their elegant designs and custom components and nowadays produce rock solid DC outputs, effectively isolated from the quality of the AC input. Indeed, the huge inductances of massive (toroidal) transformers provide a powerful band-pass filter, blocking any frequencies higher than 50 Hz.

So to test if mains cables do have an effect, (and the man at the show isn’t doing something other than switching cables during demonstrations!), it isn’t a matter of signal input-output comparison, but rather comparing the sonic output for a particular (fixed) input before and after changing the mains cable.


When I was a student, many years ago, I worked in a lab that had a sound spectrograph. This contraption produced a paper analysis of a sound interval in terms of three dimensions: time, frequency and energy. (It burned a patch onto a rotating drum while the frequency was scanned - the darker the burn mark, the higher the energy at that frequency.) We used to feed it from giant Ferrograph tape recorders! I bet you’d like such equipment in your Olde Worlde section!


I’m sure we could find the equivalent modern version of the spectrograph, and borrow one for a test. A lot of people would be interested in the results.

Mark Lee

 

We use a three dimensional decay spectrum to measure colouration in loudspeakers, but do not publish it for lack of space. I suspect this is the sort of display you are referring to. You can see them on our website, in the Loudspeaker section.  Spectrum analysers have long had such a display, usually termed a “waterfall” plot. Hewlett Packard’s HP3561A, released in 1984 (we have three of them), has such a display for example. NK

waterfall-iguascu-decay

A waterfall plot shows time, frequency and amplitude on a three-D graph. We use them to assess colouration in loudspeakers.

 

SECONDS OUT

I was intrigued by your article 'Second Chance' in the June 2011 issue, in which three of your writers assembled an affordable system based on a second-hand source component. Coincidentally, at the same time I was engaged on a very similar exercise aimed at providing me with a modestly priced second system for a small but snug (12ft x 8 ft) sitting room-cum-library off my main lounge where I like to sit occasionally with my morning coffee and read the papers.

 

I had already decided on two things: 1) I wanted it to be based around a valve amplifier, since I have never previously owned one in all my years of buying hi-fi; 2) It would have to come in at under two grand, since anything more expensive couldn’t be justified by the amount of use it would get.

 

As it turned out, two-thirds of the system was acquired second-hand or discounted from one of your regular advertisers, Audio Emotion of Leven, Fife, Scotland, where the ever-helpful Gary was a positive joy to deal with. I found his advice and suggestions invaluable. I gather Gary and his business partner are both keen musicians and clearly love hi-fi just as much as their satisfied customers.

 

I built the system over several weeks, starting from what you would probably say was the wrong end, i.e. with speakers and stands. However, Gary gave me a great deal on a pair of Dynaudio Audience 42 speakers and the astonishing Partington Dreadnought stands (did the designer source them from a North Sea oil rig, I wonder?), coming in second-hand at under half the normal retail price of the units together.

 

Next, I bought from another online seller a Fatman Wi-Tube Hybrid Valve Amplifier (28 watts output) with the accompanying FatDock Blu iPod dock (£395). Yes, I know the amplifier is a hybrid beast but I was seduced by the unusual and dinky looks of the two components, which seemed perfect for the room they would occupy.

Then came the need for a CD player and again it was back to Audio Emotion. Gary found me a second-hand Primare PD12, a heavy and solidly built unit, to use as a transport – once more for an excellent price. Because I also wanted to stream Internet radio, iTunes and WMA files on a memory stick from an Acer netbook laptop, he suggested a Musical Fidelity V-DAC which has a switch to toggle between coaxial/optical and USB inputs.

 

With Chord Company interconnects and QED XT400 X-Tube speaker cables, the whole lot came in at around £1,500, a saving of something like £700-£800 if I had had to buy everything at original cost price.

 

Though the Fatman amp only has two phonoinputs, by employing a cable comprising two phono outputs to a 3.5mm jackplug going into the auxiliary input of the FatDock Blu dock, I am even able to run a cassette player into the system, making four sources in all, i.e. CD, iPod, laptop and tapes.


Of course, the system doesn’t have quite the same power and slam of my main system in the lounge (Michell Gyro SE in beautiful black and gold/Rega RB250/Ortofon Rondo Red; Musical Fidelity X-series phono and headphone amps; the barrel-shaped versions; Roksan Caspian CD player and FM tuner; Caspian pre- amp and two power amps bi-amping Living Voice Avatar speakers; Yamaha HDR-CD 1500 hard disc/CD recorder; Musical Fidelity M1 DAC), but that lot cost many times more than my second system and has to fill a much bigger room.


The system I have described, built largely with second-hand components, is giving me much pleasure and was assembled for a modest outlay. Moreover, I have only praise for the enthusiasm and excellent advice of one of your advertisers. Thanks, Gary of Audio Emotion!


In case it is of interest, I attach a photo of the system. I doubt there is another quite like it in the country!

Roy Stockdill

 

Thanks Roy - good for you. Enjoy your 'second chance'! DP


roy-stockdil

Roy Stockdill's system, unique in the UK he tells us – and very nice too.

 

FOUR ON THE FLOOR

I have a Technics SL1200 Direct Drive turntable in the loft. I am planning to put a redundant (due to upgrade) nearly new Goldring 1042 on it. My question is in relation to a suitable arm which will deliver the best bang for the buck.


I’ve shortlisted a few and I understand you cannot recommend but wondered if you could talk me through the subtle differences between the Jelco 750, Audio Origami’d Rega RB251, Origin Live Silver or an SME 309. A short appraisal of each would be absolutely brilliant.

Steven Summerscales

 

Okay Steve. The Jelco 750 is effectively a reborn classic S-shape design from the nineteen eighties; indeed it has its roots in Japan back in the seventies, all told. It's sweet, smooth, warm, a little opaque and woolly and vague but a nice listen. It's an upgrade on the stock Technics SL1200 arm but not a dramatic transformation, in my view. The Audio Origami RB251 is an excellent 'rebuild' of the stock Rega, and offers fine grip of all frequencies, with an especially clean midband and a more lyrical nature than the standard arm. It's a big improvement on the Jelco. The Origin Live Silver is a little more expensive, and whilst earlier designs were Rega RB250 based it's effectively a completely 'clean sheet' design now. It's more relaxed and spacious than the cheaper AO modded Rega, with a wider soundstage and a less stark tonality. It's better than the AO in my opinion, in a subtle way.

 

The SME 309 is by far the nicest to look at and use, and offers a very polished sound – but so it should being the most expensive. I wouldn't say it was the best sounding of the four; the OL Silver gives a more naturally musical sound, even though the SME is admirably clean and detailed and dimensional – as well as giving the impression (at least) of being the most robust. I'd probably go for the Origin Live Silver if you've got the dosh, or the AO-modded Rega if you haven't. Hope this helps! DP



sme-309-tonearm

An SME309 arm suits the Technics SL-1200 well – they are a hi-tech combo.



SERIES ISSUE

I am at present thinking of upgrading my Rega P9 deck to an SME 20/3. Present system includes Icon Audio PS1 phono amp, Icon LA4 pre amp and MB90 mono blocks. Speakers are Castle Howards.

 

My main question is do I go for the SME V tonearm or the equivalent 12” arm? What are the pros and cons of these two arms? I would also want to upgrade my cartridge, Dynavector 10X (high output MC) to a standard MC such as the Ortofon Cadenza Blue. Would this be a good match for the SME set up or should I consider other makes for this deck and arms?

 

Some time in the future, after the deck upgrade, I will need to consider upgrading the ‘speakers which are 10 years old. I have always had Castles since my original Richmonds some 30+ years ago. I fancy the Tannoy Definition 8 or 10 floorstanders. I have a living room of approx’ 19’ by 28’ and listen to mainstream classical, rock/pop, blues and jazz. I would appreciate your views on these possible upgrades.

Roger

 

The SME V is all about tautness and definition in the time domain. It has tremendous dynamics but some find it a little cold and short of emotion. The SME312 is a much less obvious sounding arm, character-wise. I use the 312S and love its smooth, easy, open sound. Long 12in arms tend to be like this, but the 312S is a very good example as the big ‘uns go. An Ortofon Cadenza Blue is fine choice for the SME and your Icon Audio products.

 

Your room is big enough for either Tannoy DC8s or DC10s. I found the DC10s more remarkable of the two and it is one of the best loudspeakers I have heard for a long time, except there was just too much bass unless the foam port bungs were used. The DC10, perhaps because of its cryogenic treatment, delivers swathes of gorgeous detail and true deep insight, without artificial enhancement. In this area (and in many others) it is ahead of the pack. Only Martin Logans and ‘speakers like the Eminent Technology LFT-08b come close, but their presentation is entirely different. Tannoys are all about visceral experience, without compromise to quality. If you want get blown across your room –  in the best possible way – get a Tannoy! NK

 

IN THE CAN

Is it possible to purchase a pair of speakers to match the performance of my AKG k701 headphones? I have £1,000 to spend and being single, size, style, colour et al. are not at all important.

Peter Denham

 

Hi Peter - yes it is. My £1,049 would go on the ELAC BS243, which has a similar sort of sound to your AKGs; clean, expansive, detailed and precise. DP

 

THE QUADFATHER

I am a bit of a surround sound/quad nut, and regret the passing of the recent phase of SACDs (and even DVD-As) being released with full surround mix, as (done well, with the right music/source) a surround album can bring something extra to a listening. I can’t wait for the (at last, finally etc) release of Pink Floyd’s 'Wish You Were Here' in 5.1 in November!

 

What components would you use in an ultimate surround system, running in quad? I presume a Marantz UD9004, an Oppo BDP-93, or even a Townshend Audio Glastonbury or a Muse Polyhymnia (I’d never heard of either of these until a Google search for high end universal players listed them, but they look wonderful). However, they don’t seem to play Blu-rays which rules them out these days (thinking of the 2L catalogue...).

 

Presuming that the receiver of choice has phono outputs, so (say) a couple of Leema pre/power amp combos feeding... well, what do you suggest?

Being surrounded by four electrostatics is an endearing image, or even four Tannoys - four Westminsters being fed by some ultra-high end valve amps would be possibly the ultimate, if you have the room size...)

 

A major source of coloration of a speaker’s output is the physical case and speaker cone etc (ignoring the electrical side for now). How about using something to energise the air directly, such as pulsed lasers (but at what colour frequency?), or even high-power electromagnets, arranged in a circle (like a Pink Floyd circular screen of Vari-lites) and pulsing (like an electrostatic) the sound out both front and back, so they would need to be away from walls...

 

A lot of energy would be needed to affect the air and produce a reasonable volume in this way - if it could be done at all - but if the control is linear and predictable across the whole of the audio range (a big “if”, I know!) then maybe physical speaker cones, ribbons and electrostatic plates days are numbered(!)

 

Taking this further, if we ever develop a practical force field, and Star Trek-like tractor beams, then we’d be half way there to music out of thin air. At the extreme is either pumping music down wormholes in space (sound from a vacuum!), or (more likely) a direct (wired, though wireless would be possible using the spine or brain as an aerial) connection to the brain, bypassing the acoustic domain of speakers/air/ears and keeping the number of transducers to a minimum (just a microphone) as everything else is electronic anyway. Analogue amplification throughout, with valves, of course...!

 

Next week, how to get electrical signals down a wire without any metal core (this is assuming that electricity travels through space itself and not the wire...) and records that float on a rotating (and very carefully controlled) column of air while the grooves are read by lasers. I know it was done many years ago (the lasers bit) but with modern control systems and computers surely we could do a better job?

 

Yours (who’s probably been exposed to too much science fiction than is good for him, but we can all dream)

John Malcolm

Wiltshire

 

Er, yes John. Exposed to some strong beverage too, perhaps? I put together a valve amplifier based surround-sound system a few years ago (July 09 issue, p34), using an Onkyo PR-SC886 surround-sound preamplifier and that was pretty good. But guess what, I spotted a five channel surround-sound valve amplifier at the Mei Xing factory on my recent visit to them - see the picture.

 

ming-da-amp

The Ming Da MC-5S five channel surround-sound valve amplifier, spotted recently in their China showroom.

 

As surround-sound can be as much about visceral experience as it is about sound quality I feel big Tannoys would be best - and a brace of DC6s, 8s or 10s would be practical, if a little expensive.

 

The most brilliant or daftest loudspeaker idea ever was developed in Germany, by Sennheiser I recall. Where two very high frequency audio beams meet, at a distance from the acoustic transmitters, they intermodulate to produce a low frequency audio (difference) signal. This means inaudible high frequency audio beams can be aimed at someone at a distance and they will hear audio ‘in the air’ that no one else will hear. Isn’t this magic? It is - and it works too.

 

So what’s the snag? Why are we not all sitting in rooms with small, high power acoustic transmitters in the corners sending beams to our ears, so we hear music as if wearing invisible headphones? The beams only intermodulate when the medium is stressed to non-linearity, meaning huge acoustic levels must be used. Cats and bats wouldn’t use this system if offered it free. Humans might find it involves “health difficulties”. An intriguing idea, but not one with much future I suspect.

 

Electricity does travel in space as radio waves and it can carry music or we wouldn’t have Radio 1, which can probably picked up on the moon.

Lasers reading LPs was a horrible idea doomed never to work because they read all the dust and groove damage that a stylus sweeps aside or avoids; I heard the Finial once: it sounded like a noisy CD player.

 

Keep dreaming John, but try green tea instead, as I have been forced to do recently in my travels. NK



 

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