October 2011 issue - Page 3

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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 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



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



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



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


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



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




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 ( 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



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 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 NK


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


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