November 2011 issue

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World Mail    November 2011 issue        


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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.



Audirvana - superb sounding computer audio software for Macs, says Editor David Price.



I would just like to pass on my experience of getting decent sound quality from a Mac and refer to some of the points raised by Alex Cohen in July letters.


My main (serious listening) system is still (mainly) analogue based and will remain so. Like Alex, my primary reason for changing my second hi-fi over to a purely digital server based system about three years ago was convenience. It’s in the living room and so is used more than the other systems. However, unlike Alex, I was not completely blown away by the resulting sound quality: Mac Mini with 1TB USB hard disk, Stello DA100 Signature connected to the Mac via an optical lead, Creek OBH-22 passive feeding an active crossover, then out to bi-amped (much modified) Spendor Preludes (soon to be replaced with some Celestion 5000s).


Initially, I used iTunes AAC at 320 kbps but soon realised that for classical and jazz recordings especially, there was just something not quite right. I can only describe it as a slight ‘ringing’ (especially on piano), or touch of shrillness or coloration. This was puzzling since I was also aware of a slight lack of space around the instruments and the fact that the extreme treble just wasn’t as smooth as it ought to be. True, the sound quality was better than a budget CD player but that isn’t saying much! I had expected a better sound from the Stello, but could the reviews all have been wrong?


So began a search for possible improvements. First of all came a valve amp for the treble and then later on a separate valve amp for the mid-range/bass (both pre-owned World Audio units). Quite an improvement, particularly in the treble. The shrillness was reduced considerably. But there remained a niggling dissatisfaction with the system. There was still a lack of ultimate detail. Piano recordings in particular showed up the shortcomings of the system and so I tried doing a few WAV rips using EAC (Exact Audio Copy). Immediate improvement!


I also tried Apple Lossless but totally agree with David Price’s findings that it sounds as if a veil has been drawn over the recording, flattening the sound stage and depriving the music and instruments of any emotional content. I’m guessing that the decoding process just strips out those high frequency clues that make listening to music a truly emotional experience. In my opinion, it isn’t even as good as AAC at 320 kbps.


A brief dalliance with Fluke enabled me to play FLAC files in iTunes and frankly I cannot tell the difference between them and WAV files, they both sound very good. However, I have now replaced Fluke with Pure Vinyl software which integrates perfectly with iTunes and enables me now to play FLAC files without any problems.


So why am I writing to you? Well, for a long time I have suspected that whatever the synonyms applied (ringing, coloration, jitter, etc.) that basically what I could hear that left me dissatisfied was distortion. So, after your review of the Musical Fidelity V-Link, I ordered one. Connected it up via USB from the Mac then optical lead to the Stello. Gave it 24 hours to run in and listened. Now I was completely blown away. I just cannot believe the difference this little unit has made to the whole system. The coloration has completely disappeared and everything is now reproduced with such effortless ease that it even makes 16/44.1 recordings sound better than I’ve ever heard them. Even AAC at 320 kbps sounds acceptable! I’m now listening to the most analogue sounding digital system I’ve ever heard and that shiver down the spine factor is back! All the emotional involvement has returned, all due to a small, very low-priced box that has to be the hi-fi bargain of this century. I just cannot put into words the difference the V-Link has made; I can now clearly hear Diana Krall’s breathing between notes and the pedal stops being used on her piano. But best of all, using the acid test of piano music, that ‘ringing’ has gone. The system sounds completely natural; so effortless that I simply forget it and enjoy the music with great pleasure. The Stello now sounds like the superb D/A converter it is.


So I got there in the end, mainly thanks to your magazine and what I have gleaned from it. I wonder if you would consider doing a feature on Computer based systems and how to get the best out of them sometime? I’m sure it would help a lot of people.

Howard Spendlove


Musical Fidelity's V Link made all the difference to Howard Spendlove's computer based system.


Hi Howard – happy to hear you’ve got there in the end! Like you I’m of the opinion – on the hardware side – that Asynchronous USB from the motherboard to the V-Link, then optical to the DAC (to kill noise), is the best compromise for 16/44.1. Then there’s the issue of playback software; I’m currently using Audirvana 0.9f ( which to my ears works way better than iTunes. It has native playing of FLAC, WAV,  ALAC and other Quicktime formats (AAC, MP3), and has a direct sound path to the computer’s audio core. There’s an audio device exclusive access mode to switch off co-processing tasks, and it plays completely from memory (so as not to need current-sapping HDD use); the tracks are loaded, decoded and sample rate converted in a memory buffer before being played. I’ll be writing an in-depth computer audio feature very soon - it’s ‘in development’ right now! DP



The October issue has just arrived at the news stands in Portugal and I got mine immediately before lunch. I’m writing to you because I was deeply shocked by Mr. Joe Cohen’s letter which you did well, giving it the “pole position” thus, making sure that it wouldn’t be overlooked by the readers.


People are free to speak their minds, but nobody should feel free to insult other people or institutions. One thing is to make an accusation, based on facts and supported by documents, extracting conclusions that may or not be fair and verifiable. A totally different thing is to jump into conclusions and without the most basic respect for the ethical principles that should guide free speech, based on hearsay, without a consistent source of information, to produce statements that lay a blanket of suspicion upon others. That is what I call an insult. However, people who do that deserve our respect as human beings but they also deserve to be harshly criticised for their irresponsible actions. If such people learn from their mistakes they should be given new opportunities. If not, they should be prosecuted. That is what I think. In such circumstances, libel actions have more correcting power than a reply letter.


Mr. Joe Cohen, whom I don’t know except for his writings, didn’t refrain from launching a blanket of suspicion over HI-Fi World’s whole team of professionals and specifically over its Editor and one of the reviewers in particular, Mr. Adam Smith.


The unfairness of the accusation is unacceptable, as your replies make absolutely clear, thus it would be useless to repeat the arguments therein which are final and based on facts which may be verified by anyone more curious than I am. I trust your word and don’t need anything else.


Along a period of twenty years Hi-Fi World has conquered the trust of its readers and did it for being faithful to the Truth, in every circumstance. Your readers may disagree with some of your reviews; I may prefer a different pair of speakers or a different phono stage to the ones you recommend. Sometimes I would prefer the runner up to one of your yearly awards’ winner but your reader’s letters show that they always trust your opinion as an independent and highly professional one.


There is a culture of conspiracy in this world we live in. People remain on the surface and aren’t socially punished for the lies they spread.

I think it is fair to point one’s finger to the media as they are highly responsible for such a generalised behaviour as they usually give an example about how irresponsible, regardless of the consequences, some of the published material may be.


I tend to agree with “Good Old Winnie” when he said:  “there is no such thing as public opinion, there is only published opinion!

Truth is so rare and so fragile that it must be protected “ - from external aggressions but, not certainly by surrounding it with a bodyguard of lies. Unfortunately that is the world’s modern way. I sincerely hope for a change in the trend.

Mario Kopke Tulio


Thanks for that Mario. It’s heartening that you see it differently. People put pen to paper without a great deal of concern or consideration, yet at the same time we also have to accept that in our position we have an obligation to answer criticism in a clear and honest way. As they say, “if you put your head above the parapet, it will get shot at”. The difficult bit is catching the bullets between your teeth! NK


I think that as soon as you say something in the public domain, you’re fair game for being contradicted and challenged – and quite right too, as they say, “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.


The problem is that along with this come people who simply cast aspersions upon peoples’ motives, for whatever reasons they may personally have, yet offer no substantive evidence. Alleging that you get a rave review in return for advertising in a magazine is seductive if you’re of a conspiratorial mindset (and many are), but it just doesn’t logically stack up with us. As I said last month, that would mean that [a] all reviews of advertisers’ products were rave reviews (they’re not), and [b] non advertisers wouldn’t get reviews (they do) and [c] we’d only rave about the products of companies that were advertising (we don’t). I trust that our regular readers know all this, and they can make their minds up in their customary intelligent and open minded way. DP



In a frenzy of risk taking and charting unknown territories (acquired qualities – I am a boring German by birth) I purchased last year the Ming Da MC300 PRE preamp and would agree with your balanced published assessment of it, in particular the microphonic aspect of the sound reproduction. However, the use of Russian Military 6SN7 tubes reduced this short coming, improved positioning in the sound stage and resulted in more clarity in sound production. Combined with JJ 300b tubes it is a very robust setup. Another point I would like to add – the 274b tube is charged by an insane 100µF cap – WE suggested only 4µF max for this tube. Negotiations with the producer (Suena) generated an alternative: two 4µF caps parallel instead of the 100uF with the effect that the 274b stopped sparking.

Olaf Handrick


Ming Da's MC300-PRE was bought by Olaf "in a frenzy of risk taking" he says.


Hi Olaf. Thanks for your letter: it is very timely. The bass peak, caused by incorrect feedback time constants, has been dealt with by Ming Da, and microphony in the valves supplied was obvious and curable too, your experiences show. The point being that with these issues seen to, the MC-300 PRE then becomes a wonderful sounding preamp at a great price.


All the same, the owner was not a happy bunny at the Guangzhou Show I have just attended, and he gave me some dark looks when our representative Anna Chang spoke to him (in Chinese). Criticism in a review is less acceptable in China than the West; it is taken as an insult I am told, even though it can have a positive outcome, as in this case.

To be frank though, a disappointingly large number of Western manufacturers totally reject criticism too, but usually on a different basis. For them, their products are ‘perfect’ and anyone who does not think so is wrong. This is, of course, is logically absurd, apparent when the model is later replaced by one that is better. If it was perfect it would not need replacement.


I mention all this because some readers have regaled us with the fact that we do not criticise enough products and award too many Five Globe reviews. I accept this to an extent, but there is a reason. Poor products are winnowed out before review to avoid filling the mag with substandard product, to save paper and also to make space available for good products of interest to readers.


We tend to get involved in engineering issues with some items too, as a result of measurement. The MC300 PRE is a good example. It has a lot going for it, having a quite unique sound, as you might expect from its construction and parts, but the subsonic peak revealed by our spectrum analyser had to go.



Mei-xing's Suena Lai - a nice person to deal with!


And finally, Suena is not the producer. She is the person at Mei-xing who handles all overseas enquiries because her (self taught) English – of which she is proud – is excellent. Suena, as you have likely discovered, is very nice to deal with and diligently ensures customers are happy. NK


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