October 2011 issue - Page 5

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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.



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



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



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



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.



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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