October 2011 issue - Page 2

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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 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


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



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.



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



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.



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


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