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November 2011 issue

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November 2011 issue
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World Mail    November 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.

 


audirvana

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

 

IT’S MORE FUN TO COMPUTE

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-v-link

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 (www.audirvana.com/Site_2/Audirvana.html) 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

 

SPEAK EASY

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

 

TUBE TALK

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-mc300

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.

 

suena

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


IDLER CHIT CHAT

Dear Noel - I believe you are a Garrard 401 fan, which pleases me because I have recently purchased a 401 installed into an SME 2000 plinth with an early SME 3009 arm. The arm lift has failed to work and SME have told me that it cannot be topped up with fluid. I have tried to cue by finger but am not too happy with that. It is fitted with a Shure V15 111 cartridge.

 

It is time to splash out for a new tonearm I think. And cartridge. I have only ever used MMs, so do not have an MC phono stage. This is where I would like your help please. I will soon have a budget of £2,000 to spend.

 

I have been reading Hi-Fi World for many years and it always gives me much pleasure. I have short listed the Origin Live Illustrious Mk 111, the Audio Origami PU7, the Funk FXR 11, the Inspire X 100, and SME Series IV maybe, although I understand that may be a little less romantic in its presentation?

 

As for a cartridge, I have read good reports of the Ortofon 2M Black, Benz Micro Ace and the Goldring 1042. Any other suggestions? I have not heard any of them and I don’t know how on earth I will be able to compare. This is where your expert opinion will be so valuable.

 

I have just read the review by Paul Rigby of the Icon Audio PS2. That could be just the job once I have sorted out the arm and cartridge. Although I could be tempted by something like the Graaf WFB2 for the same money.

 

My system comprises a pair of Klipschorn corner horns (original 1972 models). I am thinking of purchasing a pair of Trachorns from ALK Engineering (www.alkeng.com/klip ) when funds permit. The 401, an early Croft Super Micro pre (the weakest link?), and a pair of CR Developments Amphion single ended power amps with the “spectacular” (your words) 6C33C output valves. They sound lovely.

 

My tuner is a Leak Troughline with decoder.....I love it! also an old Pioneer PD9700 CD player. My room is approx 26’ x14’ with a curved long wall and 8’ 3” ceiling. I have no option but to have my speakers on the short wall which is not ideal I know.

 

I very much look forward to your reply so that I can move forward and enjoy my music again (after all, I am pushing on a bit and time and good reproduction of good music is very precious to me)!

Terry Mason

garrard-401-on-slate-plinth

What's the best tonearm and cartridge for Terry Mason's Garrard 401?

 

Hi Terry. The 3009 and V15 are well past their sell by date. Both have merit and the Shure tended to disguise the 3009’s lively structure, but times move on. All the arms you list are very, very good and the PU7 and FXR are especially strong, although the Inspire pips them all for value in my view. Goldring’s 1042 is great fun to listen to, and basically very accurate. Its stylus also resolves high frequencies well, and it is a fine tracker – all at a reasonable price. Ortofon’s 2M Black is technically more correct sounding and forensic, and it is a triumph of engineering when measured, but you pay for all this, at £400 nearly double the Goldring.

 

Budget moving coil cartridges are getting very good and becoming popular, and the Benz Micro Ace is one fine example. Just bear in mind you will need a suitable preamplifier, making this a costlier solution.  Personally, I don’t much see the point of buying a good MC and then pairing it with a cheap transistor phono stage; it strikes me as contradictory. NK


icon-audio-ps2

Icon Audio PS2 phono stage was liked by reviewer Paul Rigby - see our August 2011 issue.

 

SECOND CHANCE

Recently I was given a Musical Fidelity A100 as a worker, but with intermittent faults. Apparently, it had been back to the dealer for repair on several occasions over a number of years and the customer had just lost faith in the product. As an electronics engineer, I took this on as a challenge (especially as it was free of charge). After some remedial work which included un-blocking/cleaning the cooling fans, replacing the emitter resistors and resoldering a few suspect joints I then had a working product. I also noticed that the heatsink compound was not very evenly applied across the heatsink, so that was cleaned and replaced.

 

I now had what I consider to be a very good sounding product (Class A) and very low noise floor especially on the line inputs. In the past I had overlooked Musical Fidelity as a company, but was familiar with people like Leak, Quad and Audiolab. The amplifier is now giving a fine performance in my second room system.

 

You may wonder where this is all going! Having had success with a 20 year old product and liking the house sound it led me to purchase a new Musical Fidelity preamp as a start to my upgrade path and if funds permit an Musical Fidelity power amp, although I am currently using a self-repaired Audiolab which had a couple of burnt resistors which I replaced, along with some damage to the PCB track. So I do feel that second hand is a good way to experiment with a variety of makes, and could lead to a purchase of new equipment, if styling, features and warranty are important to you. Currently I am using a pair of speakers I bought for £10 from eBay, but that’s another story...

 

Changing tack, I have been following with interest, your review of the Eminent LFT-16. I see that the review did not make it to the August magazine, and all is explained on your new website. I first heard these speakers about a year ago and was very impressed, and was almost ready to buy, but I did have a couple of concerns. In the UK a got the impression that these were being distributed by a one man team, so I was concerned about continuing support, although there is a three year warranty.

 

Styling and look were quite basic. However, given the sound of these speakers, I think that is not so important, as any other type of electrostatic/ribbon type speaker will either be too big for the room, or could never be placed in an optimum position. I also noticed that on the Eminent website there is a very good user guide for the LFT-16s which details the design theory, measured performance and component values. I also notice that there is another downloadable document, which describes how to adjust the film tension, using the adjustment cams. Although the LFT16s are not specifically mentioned, I wonder if you could enquire when you revisit the review if any adjustments are required during the life of the product. We know that companies like Quad and other independent traders can offer rebuilds, repair and upgrades and I wonder where we stand with Eminence. If these support issues could be addressed in the review, I could well be their next customer.

Alan Ralph


musical-fidelity-a100

Musical Fidelity A1 / A100 - not bad as a fixer upper for free!

 

Hi Alan. You are a brave man methinks, but the LFT-16 is arguably one of the best £1k loudspeakers going and out runs others sonically by a big margin I feel. As we are finding though, U.S. production seems a little – erm – variable. We await more news of the fix for depressed tweeter level.

 

In the meantime, another manufacturer tells me they are to revive their ‘Isodynamic’ treble unit from the 1980s and we might hopefully see a midrange unit too. Magnetic planar drive units have potential, the LFT-16s show. NK

 

Hi Alan - yes, there’s a lot to be said for buying second-hand, and contrary to what many manufacturers seem to think, it doesn’t actually preclude people going on to buy new. Speaking personally, my first Michell GyroDec was a previously (well) owned example, from someone selling up to move to South Africa. I bought it, with GyroPower PSU, for £425, fitted a Rega R200 arm and Linn K9 cartridge to it (both lying around in my hi-fi spares box) and was amazed that it sounded better than my finely fettled, very expensive, bought-new, Linn LP12/Ittok/AT-33E. I duly sold my Linn, and my second-hand (and slightly battered) Gyro and bought a brand new Michell Orbe. So there you go – used hi-fi can be a great stepping stone to new hi-fi. It’s also a great way to get lots of bang for your buck (metaphorically speaking; that wasn’t a reference to your A100’s unreliability)! DP


TOP NOTCH

I am happy to say I received my pair of Eminent Technology LFT-16 loudspeakers on the same day you got the new review pair. They were delivered by Darren Hatcher of A&D Audio. The fit and finish does leave something to be desired. There were loose screws in both treble units, one that had no wood behind to fix to. Some glue or other material is evident on the midrange units and the wood has a small crack above one unit. Having said this the boxes are heavy and feel sold. They certainly pass the knuckle wrap test. Initially I was underwhelmed by the sound, it was a little muddied and veiled. The speakers were initially on low heavy spiked bases tilted backwards and angled inwards. The system they are in consists of a Benchmark DAC 1 pre amp, Channel Audio D200 power amps an Xtreamer digital source and Michell GyroDec with Hadcock 242 arm Benz M2 cartridge and Benz Micro PP1 phono amp. All connected with a mix of Van Den Hul The First interconnect and Odyssey 2 speaker cable.


The speakers were run in with a burn-in CD from a rival magazine for 48 hours (source: an X Box). After running in the sound opened up a little, sounding more transparent with good front-to-back depth. They did however still seem a little dull to me. I experimented by putting the treble on the high (0 dB) setting. This was not successful and made them sound a little phasey on some material.


Having spoken to Darren he suggested the speakers be raised so the treble unit was at ear level. The speakers now reside on Atacama SL400 stands. These are sand filled, very rigid and not prone to ringing.


I have liked the bass on the LFT-16 from the beginning. It is very tuneful and fast, no doubt due to the sealed box. However, on the stands it takes another leap forward and integrates with midband seamlessly. The speakers are far from being dull as I first thought and are very well balanced. They don’t shout the midrange or treble, but there is no lack of detail or insight. Tonally, I have never heard instruments more convincing. As for the sound stage there is space and air around each instrument and a real sense of height. I am genuinely hearing aspects of recordings I have not before, such as dubbed instruments and room acoustics.


The speakers are understated but dynamic, it is this ability to reproduce dynamics that gives the realism to the music. Records I have previously found difficult to listen to, such as the Sundazed reissue of MC5’s ‘High Time’ (Sundazed make the best of a poor original recording) now have more body and atmosphere that allow you to concentrate on the music for what it is. It is enough to say I usually combine listening with reading a hi-fi magazine or two, but since I have had these speakers I just find myself putting it down to listen. Thanks for a great magazine.

Kevin Foster

lft-16

Eminent Technology LFT-16 - not so much a loudspeaker as a labour of love for many!

 

Hi Kevin - that was a timely and interesting e-mail. I have only measured our second pair and even with the tweeter at ‘high’ the ‘speaker barely makes 10kHz – see our graph. Moreover, this was the best it could do over a narrow forward angle, so there is little treble energy going into the room and it will sound dull, exactly as you say. The speaker must be pointed at listeners for strongest treble. As you note though, the loudspeaker still offers fabulous results, quite different from cone loudspeakers and much better. I wondered whether the originals were the best loudspeaker I had ever heard at the price. NK

 

Kevin replies -

I am so glad that you agree with my ears. I did not realise that much treble was missing, but cymbals and high hats, etc., do sound recessed. Despite this they are solid and lifelike. I have lived with Monitor Audio GS 100 for some months and a speaker based on the Loki dual concentric drive unit, both of which are more brightly lit and forward, but neither have the presence or realism of the LFT-16. Darren had told me the speakers were delayed because a crossover component was not available. Could a wrong value item in the crossover be the problem? Or perhaps it is a different tweeter unit? I do think the bass is very tuneful and well integrated. At ear level and pointed at me, the speakers now seem well balanced but a little dull, I shall try the high treble setting again. Presumably we shall get some feedback from the manufacturer; he seems an approachable man. I do hope that a solution to the treble fall off is available as these are great speakers that are getting better each listen. Once again many thanks for replying. I may see you at Whittlebury Hall if you are there, Darren promised me a couple of tickets!

Kevin Foster

 

UPGRADE DOWN UNDER

I am in need of some guidance regarding the common problem of an upgrade path. This has never been a problem, given I’ve always known what I wanted but now able to take another step and am confused which way to go. My system consists of the Usher CD1 and Northstar design CD players, Goldpoint SA1 passive pre and a pair of Usher R1.5 power amps in bridged configuration. My cable loom is made up of the Atlas Titan Al Cu interconnects and Ichor speaker cables. Power leads are Russ Andrews Sig and Oyaide Black Mamba on the CDP and Oyaide Tsunami gpxr on the power amps. Speakers are the JBL TL260 towers.

 

The problem I face is that my taste in music, as in how I listen to music, is changing. I don’t listen to it as loud as I use to and my music is a touch more laid back than energising. I like everything that my current system does but am needing that bit extra to really grab my attention. My room is 8m x 6.5m; it’s softly furnished with hard floors and heavy drapes. As for upgrades, whatever is recommended will be looked at in depth. Price wise or budget would be relative to the rest of the system. As I am in Australia hopefully it’s available nearby!

Renee Barker

castle-knight-5

Castle Knight 5 is well finished and has a smooth soound.

 

Hi Renee. JBL TL260 loudspeakers are not the subtlest of performers yet the Usher power amplifiers are good and will drive just about anything you choose. I suggest you try and listen to the latest Castle Knight range of loudspeakers, which I know are distributed into Australia and New Zealand. They are deliberately engineered to offer a more sober and more truthful approach to reproducing music than is common. I also rather like the Kingsound electrostatic range of loudspeakers. Manufactured in Hong Kong they are likely to be available in Oz. NK

 

BIG SMILE

In your last edition you gave the Audiolab 8200DCQ a great review, but no mention of the ancillaries it was tested with; what power amp was used? What amp was used when used as a CD transport? You are usually very good at this sort of stuff, so I was a tad disappointed, as at that price and with those facilities, a great sounding system could be had for a relatively small outlay, do you not think? Also, I have seen pics of the Audiosmile advantage active speakers that augment the Kensais, but still no review! I think I saw it mentioned around the end of last year in the “next month we have section”, but still no joy??

 

Also, I found the mod projects available for the Rega (Inspire Hi-Fi) and the SL1200 (from Sound Hi-Fi) both very interesting. The Timestep Evo looks amazing and also sounds well worth investigating.

 

I would love to see a review of the Audiomods take on upgrading the Rega tonearm, ideally on both of the above; would the Inspire mods not warrant such an arm, bearing in mind the price of each item??

 

As I said before, thanks for a great mag. I look forward to hearing your views on the above. Keep up the good work!!

David

 

Hi David - sometimes we have to miss out our ‘Reference System’ panel on the grounds of space; the pages get too crowded and it becomes impossible to fit it in! Basically though, we all run fairly consistent reference systems from month to month, so if in doubt look up the name of the reviewer, and find another review of his with the ‘Reference System’ panel shown; that’s about 95% accurate! If there’s something special or unusual about the systems/ancillaries being used, then we’ll always mention it in the text, anyway. As far as the Audiolab 8200CDQ was concerned, I ran it in several systems, but primarily with a Musical Fidelity AMS35i integrated amplifier (using the CDQ as a CD player, via its balanced outputs, as I remember) and of course my Yamaha NS1000M loudspeakers. I also tried its preamp capabilities into a World Audio Design K5881 power amplifier.

 

Regarding our ‘Next Month’ page, I have to periodically remind readers that I say “here’s what we hope to bring you”. Note use of “hope”, for hoping is all a poor editor can do when promised lots of tasty new kit that’s “just a few weeks away” by the manufacturer or PR, and then it never materialises for any number of reasons – often beyond the control of even the manufacturer! So please take this almost as a “wish list”; what yours truly would like the Santa Claus of the Hi-Fi World to deliver down the World Towers chimney before the next issue is done...

 

timestep-technicssl1210mk2

TimeStep's SL-1200 Evo from Sound Hi-Fi - just one of many fine vinyl mods packages on the market ...

 

We’ve been amazed by the range of mods packages for, variously, the Technics, Linn, Rega and Garrard 401 (and indeed this issue has two more superb variations on the theme); it’s almost the case that the modding world is more interesting than the new turntable releases right now, and they’re certainly superb value. We’re lining up an Audiomods review for you very soon, along with a supertest of all these modded arms to get some sort of perspective. Watch this space... DP


ON THE SHELF

I hope you can give me some advice with regards to bookshelf loudspeakers. Due to my domestic situation, specifically a young child running around, I am having to trade in my current Sugden Masterclass integrated amplifier and Focal Electra 1007BE speakers as the hi-fi will be relegated from dedicated rack to a closed cabinet and the speakers from their stands to the top of the cabinet. The rest of my kit consists of a Cyrus CD XT and DAC XP. I also have a Linn Majik power amplifier stored away which I am considering bringing back into service as it runs cool and should therefore be happy in a cabinet. I have a large music collection across a range of genres and primarily listen to Americana, Indie and Rock. I’m not sure of the trade in value of the Sugden and Focals but hope to have up to £2,000 available to buy a new pair of bookshelf speakers and possibly a new power amp. I would prefer a sound that is slightly on the warm side if it has to be tonally coloured and am happy with my current kit’s presentation which I find very smooth, but also clear and detailed.


I recently read your review of the MAD My1920 speakers and think they could be a good fit and suit my taste. How do you think they would pair with the Cyrus kit and Linn Power Amp? Also, do you think they would be suitable sighted on top of a cabinet and close to a rear wall. The lounge itself is long and thin, I listen across the room and am around 10ft from the speakers, which will be approximately 6-8ft apart. Are there any other speakers you would recommend I audition that would be happy in this configuration? I would also consider changing the Linn Power Amp if you thought I could improve upon the sound within my budget, or felt that there could be a better match with the new speakers. I found the Linn underpowered with the Focal speakers and the sound was too bright until I bought the Sugden second-hand.

Robert Pearce


mad-my1920

My Audio Design My1920 - a great 'speaker solution for those lacking space...

 

Well, you’ve got several choices. The best speaker for your particular situation, I would suggest, is the AudioSmile Kensai (£2,100). This is a small standmounter which is very unobtrusive in the room, and easy to site, but has superlative sound which fills rooms in a way completely at odds with its diminutive dimensions. Its ribbon tweeter is superb, and treble is one of the best in the business. The Linn Majik power amp would drive them, although you might want more heft. Obviously though, they’re at the top of your budget so it’s difficult to upgrade the amp – the numbers don’t add up! So, if you want a slightly bigger and more powerful sound, I’d counsel the MAD My1920, which is a sort of twenty first century LS3/5a; it has a far more even sound balance and a bigger bass than the Kensai. It works well right against a wall and will please with its smooth musicality; not as fast or incisive or transparent as the Kensai, but it’s half the price and gives you some money to play with power amps.

 

rotel-rb-1092

Rotel RB1092 Class D power amplifier produces massive power and stays cool.

 

Personally, I’d search out a Rotel RB1092 secondhand. These go for around a grand in mint condition, are not that hard to find, and sport 2x 500W RMS per channel (we actually measured 592W, as I recall!), which is plenty enough for the MADs – it will tickle them nicely and allow them to punch hard into your room. The clever thing here is that the Rotel uses B&O’s IcePower Class D chips, so the amp runs totally cool even at full whack - a Musical Fidelity A100 it is not (I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago; see SECOND CHANCE)! This should fit into your cabinet nicely... The Rotel is a touch on the dry side, tonally speaking, but should complement the My Audio Design speakers which are, if anything, just a tad warm. I’d recommend Black Rhodium’s Tango speaker cable (£15/m), which is nicely smooth and silky too, for this application. DP

 

RADIO GAGA

Steve Green has had a running commentary on radio reception from the BBC with some occasional comments for other areas of Europe, including Lyric FM in the Emerald Isle. Last Monday, 15th August I heard a live streaming broadcast from BBC Radio 3 of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake on my very recently acquired music server from Cambridge Audio [NP 30]. Thanks for the review that influenced my leap in that direction. Most of the stations I visited were coming through at 128kbps WMA. However, the BBC Radio 3 broadcast that night was coming through at 478kbps AAC. I had a feeling we were in for a good night’s listen.

 

To say it was good was an understatement: my wife and myself were spellbound. I have never heard live radio like this, it was stunning. I should mention that I do like FM and have heard some good broadcasts, admittedly not BBC Radio 3 on FM as it is beyond my range. It shows what can be done.

 

A visit to various websites indicate that the BBC are running test broadcasts. Well, I think they have cracked it, absolute perfection or as close as can be reasonably expected. The following day, Tuesday 16th, the quality dropped slightly to 466kbps and then to 307kbps for Wednesday 17th. These bit rate figures are still good and make for great listening.

Very sadly, the local state radio station here in Ireland for classical music, Lyric FM, broadcasts at 32kbps. I think they believe Microsoft’s statement that 32kbps is audio quality when everyone else realises that this is not the case. Programme content is great but broadcast quality really sucks. FM is no better with clicks, pops and clacks with volume drops. My FM tuner is a Magnum Dynalab FM 90 which is very good at pulling in a quality programme, when it’s there. Incidentally, the clicks and pops are also audible on my car radio some distance from the house which removes housebound issues as being the problem.

 

It seems to me that if you want to listen to digital radio in your car, or generally as background music in your house, then best buy a table top DAB radio. If you want to listen to digital radio more seriously, then invest in a music server streamer that can pull in live streaming broadcasts world wide. I hope BBC Radio 3 maintain this broadcasting quality for its a real achievement. Keep up the good work in the magazine. I enjoy my monthly read.

Paul Geoghegan


magnum-dynalab-md90

Paul Geoghegan uses a Magnum Dynalab tuner to receive quality VHF/FM in the Emerald Isle (Ireland).

 

Hi Paul - yes, one of the ‘side effects’ of me spending so much time with network music players of late has been me almost accidentally listening to a lot of internet radio. You’re right, the quality is variable, but it can be very good indeed – a particular fave of mine is Radio Paradise (www.radioparadise.com/), which plays fine rock music at a decent bitrate. The great thing about internet radio (as opposed to DAB) is of course that it’s extensible, which is to say the bitrate can be instantly and invisibly upgraded; it’s just a case of the broadcasters being bothered. It’s great when the Beeb does bother – it saddens me that over the past decade it’s been on a race to the bottom in terms of both content and technical quality. A few less home improvement shows on BBC1 and dire sitcoms on BBC3, and a few more serious bits of music broadcasting such as what you’ve outlined, would be welcomed by us all. If anyone at the BBC is reading this (and I’m aware that some do), then I’m sure I can speak for all the readers when I say we like you when you remember who you are (i.e. the BBC) and don’t try to compete with commercial stations for ratings. That’s why we pay our licence fees, much as many of us resent it these days. Okay, I’m off my soapbox now – time for a glass of water and a calming half hour of Radio 4! DP


radio-paradise

 

David listens to Radio Paradise on-line.

 

DOWN AND DIRTY

I am currently listening to 2Ls the Nordic Sound sampler 2 disc SACD / Blu-ray disc. Some wonderful music. I am currently playing the 2ch 192/24bit layer on my Sony BDP-S370 connected to my Rega DAC via a QED co-axial cable. When I hit the DISPLAY button on the Sony’s remote it confirms that I am playing the 2ch 192/24 layer. However, the Frequency LED lit on the Rega indicates the incoming sample rate is 44.1/48kHz. Will it be impossible to get the 192/24 layer unmolested to the DAC via this type of connection? I am assuming the Sony is downsampling the coaxial output to 16/44.1kHz despite what it says via the display, or could the Rega be telling porkies?

Derek James

 

The digital audio (S/PDIF) output on your Sony is most likely streaming 16/44/1 to your DAC, as you suspect, because this interface cannot support more than 96kHz sample rate in stereo. Downconverting to CD standard is the safe thing to do, allowing the player to interface with any external device to give sound. What manufacturers try and avoid these days is a ‘no sound’ scenario that leaves users confused and dissatisfied. So you get the lowest common denominator option; anything that works! You could look at the player’s audio menus; on access you can set the max output sample rate to 96kHz but I do not recall this option on the Sony. You must use the HDMI output to enjoy 24/192 high resolution digital audio and at present only A/V receivers, or A/V preamplifiers (e.g. Onkyo) can accept and make sense of an HDMI input. NK

 

THE BLUES

I very much enjoy reading your Hi-Fi World editorials. Earlier in the year I read a review you wrote of the Pioneer BDP-LX53 and you compared it to the Oppo BDP-83 and Cambridge Audio 650BD. I have been researching both of these players to replace my current universal DVD Pioneer player, but my limited technical knowledge of digital to analogue converter chips has left me in a bit of a quandary.


I was hoping I could ask for your advice in this regard? I realise that at this point these companies have new players (Oppo BDP-95 and Cambridge Azure 751BD), so I’m wondering if I should choose from the new players instead? Or is the audio performance between the new players and the older players negligible? Is the performance of the Cambridge Azure 751BD worth twice the price of the 650BD?


Either way, my main question is regarding the difference in audio performance between the Dual ES9018 SABRE 32-bit Reference DACs in the Oppo BDP-95 and the five Wolfson WM8740 24/192kHz DACs in the Cambridge 751BD. I see that one is a 32bit versus a 24bit. Not knowing enough about the technical difference it would seem that the Oppo DAC would be superior than the Cambridge DAC. Is that reasonable to assume or is that misleading? I prefer the design of the Cambridge players, but I want to buy the player that will create the best audio playback from SACD, Audio-DVD and Blu-ray. I will be using the analogue 7.1-channel surround outputs to connect to my Rotel processor. My priority is audio performance over video. I hope this is not too trivial of a question for you, as I’m at a loss trying to decide which player to choose given the different DACs employed.

Alberto Trujillo


cambridge-audioazure751bd

 

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD Blu-ray player has selectable digital filters on its analogue output, but it is expensive.

 

Hi Alberto. I am sorry to disappoint you but I have not heard the analogue output of the Oppo BDP-95 so cannot comment upon its analogue performance. I have measured and carefully listened to the Cambridge 751BD and whilst it is a good analogue player, it isn’t the best by any means. That is because Blu-ray players are intended to work with AV receivers via HDMI; their analogue outputs are not a priority.

 

You would be better advised to buy a modern Onkyo receiver like the TX-NR609 (see our review) and use HDMI connection. If you want the very best from SACD then get a more expensive Onkyo or Marantz receiver, preferably with proper DSD convertors. I compared the 751BD with the 650BD in our September 2011 issue. I hope this helps you. NK

 

We have an Oppo BDP-95 on order – review coming soon. DP


COMPUTER BUILD

I wonder if you could help me. I am about to have a new computer built and would like to be able to download music and burn high definition discs to play on my hi-fi system. My current, elderly PC is not connected to my system and the few CDs I have burned from downloads sound rather dull and lo-res, though the music sounded well through the PC speakers. Can you advise as to the required hardware/software needed to burn high fidelity discs; does burn speed affect quality? The dearth of record shops these days means the only way to buy music is online; gone are the days of Rare Records, Forsythes, Virgin and dozens of other record stores. I hope you can help me. I will be specifying a PC based around an Intel i5 processor, the rest is dependent on what you suggest. Thank you for reading my request.

Fred Davies


item-audio

 

For an audiophile PC go to Item Audio says our Editor, David Price.

 

Hi Fred - what a subject! There’s enough to discuss here to fill the entire magazine. The answer to your question depends on how seriously you want to take the subject of computer audio, and what your budget is. If you’re really serious, then I suggest to you get an off-the-shelf audio computer from Item Audio, for example (see www.itemaudio.co.uk). There’s a choice of platforms (Mac or PC) and you can specify just about everything you want; the key is zero noise fanless operation, internal electromagnetic shielding, a rigid low vibration chassis and with high quality components. Solid-state SSD hard drives are pretty much essential, as are good quality internal cables. If you don’t go for the Item Audio solution then aim for all the aforementioned in your build choices. As far as burning is concerned, you need to run the best quality optical media at the lowest possible burning speeds, while the computer itself is not doing any other tasks. DP

 

LOUDSPEAKER UPGRADE

My last letter to you, written in the summer of 2007 listed a wide range of kit which worked okay but failed to deliver truly enjoyable listening. In between times I culled much of the equipment in an attempt to simplify things. One mistake was to buy the Pioneer A-A6 integrated amp on the basis of a glowing review; how bitterly disappointing this proved to be and I could not dispose of it fast enough (thanks eBay)! Then a colleague loaned me a Naim CD5/ NAC112/ NAP150 just to see what I thought. Running this through Naim NAC5 cable to my Acoustic Energy Evo3 floorstanders was an utter revelation – absolutely stunning sound. At last, decent solid punchy bass, lovely vocals and imaging like we have never heard before. A deal was swiftly done and my remaining old components headed for eBay too. I have since indulged in a Naim tuner and Flatcap PSU which does make a difference...

Maybe a single brand system won’t give the last degree of perfection but I have lost the urge to change boxes in search of better sound; it all just works so well. However, I do think that the speakers are now outclassed by the electronics. I have yet to audition anything but had been considering Yamaha Soavo 1 (or maybe the newer 3?), KEF Reference series; then I read a review of Magneplanar MG12 and felt strangely drawn to them. What do you think? Musical tastes vary from lighter classical to a bit of rock (ACDC, Led Zeppelin), to soul and dance (70s disco to Lady Gaga).

Ben Bristow


yamaha-soavo1

A Yamaha Soavo 1.1 was liked by our Editor David Price, in our October 2009 issue.

 

Hmmm... well to me this reads a little like someone saying “I was very hungry, so I thought about fish and chips, then I was considering tagliatelle and then I saw a picture of lemon cheesecake and felt strangely drawn to it – what do you think I should eat?” My point is that you’ve reeled off a list of wildly different speakers, at wildly differing price points, and asked me what I think? What I think is that I don’t really know what you want because there’s no pattern to follow, so it becomes a tricky diagnostic process.

If it’s light rock and soul you’re into, and you have a Naim system, and you want floorstanders, and your budget doesn’t seem to constrained then I’d consider the Eminent Technology LFT-8b. These use superb ‘isodynamic’ drive units for a sweet, transparent, spacious sound that would really suit your musical tastes, and offer moderate but effective bass; your Naims should drive them no problem. They’re pretty affordable too, as exotic floorstanders go! DP

 

HO HUM

I love the Letters section, I really do! Then again I can see with all the pressures of the ‘day’ job, you can be a little distracted. If you have a set of Tannoy Westminsters sitting in your hall and a letter describing the mythical powers of a 1960s cartridge that sounds superb in a 1970s Laskys special and is clearly better than any other cartridge (ever!), I can sympathise. However, I was a bit disappointed to your reply to John Watson in the July issue regarding Hadcocks and cartridges. Noel clearly isn’t keen and the respected Alvin Gold’s contribution was akin to a dinner party guest who’d reached the port stage.


I have an interest as I am using a Hadcock 242 with a Goldring Lenco idler drive and am currently using a Musicmaker cartridge. I read Raphael Todes recent review and agree that pairing the Hadcock with an idler drive creates a unique synergy. I bought the arm about seven years ago to replace a worn bearing Akito on my Linn. After the initial excitement about it being better I discovered it wasn’t. It didn’t have the lovely micro rhythms of the Linn pairing and wasn’t a great success on my rock/prog collection. I compounded the problem with the Musicmaker which tonally was superior to my Denon DL304 but that was about it.


I persuaded myself that an Ortofon Rondo Bronze was the way to go but really it’s too heavy for a Hadcock and is a bit like racing a bus around Silverstone. At this stage my wife bought me a Pioneer PL12D and when that seemed more enjoyable than the Linn, I knew it was time for revision. The Lenco came with a Mission 774 SM (the Ittok rival) and after happy times with this I put the arm on the Linn with the Ortofon and finally understood about system synergy.


Now back to John Watson’s question. The Musicmaker works superbly with the Hadcock but the Lenco motor is causing the cartridge to hum. I understand this is a longstanding problem with Grado based cartridges. Would the Audio Technica AT33E provide an answer? You’ve a long list of contributors who’ve listened extensively to the types of setups both John and I have so there must be an answer there somewhere. I play the turntables through Croft pre/ VTL ST85 power and Monitor Audio Studio 20s.

Steven Slawther

 

Yes, even in their heyday in the nineteen seventies, Grados did have hum issues, as I recall, and of course the MusicMaker shares a lot of DNA with them. None of our long list of contributors have heard this exact combination, I am afraid, so we can’t give a definitive answer, but my feeling is that Audio Technica AT-33E is less likely to give hum problems on the Lenco. Sorry we can’t be more helpful on this. DP

 

DIRECT LINE

Fascinating to read about your new turntable measuring regime, and I thought you might like to hear about my experiences with two decks I recently acquired. They are a Dual 505.1 and a Yamaha P-520 direct-drive, bought at the same time in a British Heart Foundation furniture and electrical store for £15 each! Both were obviously low hours, particularly the Dual. They are, coincidentally, peers both in era (early 1980s) and their price at that time. I have a Townshend Rock part-way through a complete rebuild, which hopefully will soon be up and running with a Garrott Decca C4E, but I needed to do some transfers of LPs for a friend, and the two decks were an opportune find.

 

Despite its near-mint condition, I assumed the Dual would have ‘dried out’ (which proved to be the case), so it got a service, main bearing cleaned out and lubed with Redline 30W synthetic motor oil, a drop of the same on the motor pulley. The belt was slack (slipped on start up and flipped instead of sliding on to 45rpm), I de-glazed it and left it in boiling water for a couple of minutes which restored service, although it’s still slightly looser than spec., I suspect.

 

The Yamaha is much more difficult proposition to service, but all the bearings are play-free and the platter spins freely and smoothly.

 

The Dual has the standard Ortofon P-mount with a 5E stylus, the Shure V15 on the Yamaha was u/s and replaced with a Nagaoka MP11 Boron I’ve owned since c. 1992 (stylus a little later, c. 1996).

It was an eye-opening experience comparing them. There are two things about the Yamaha I wouldn’t have noticed were it not for the A/Bing I was able to do with the Dual.


1 - the ‘timing’ of the Yamaha is what I would describe as slightly ‘constipated’ compared to Dual, the latter has a ‘fluidity’ that the former simply lacks..

 

2 - The Dual has a (really quite surprising) purity and clarity with voices and instruments which the Yamaha also lacks. This was evident on most discs (not all - but I suspect it was less so on those from less than perfectly played master-tapes which had inherent wow/flutter issues), not least he first two I played, AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ (180g re-release) and ‘In A Blue Mood’ by Kay Starr (1985 re-release of a c. 1955 LP). (BTW I pretty much ignored AC/DC in my formative years, despite having a life-long penchant for hard rock (I’m 52) and now I can’t fathom why - this superb mastering of a superb album has given me (and many others) an immense amount of pleasure in recent months.)

Take the chiming, bell-like power-chords that Angus Young is so brilliant in producing - they have just that on the Dual, a bell-like quality which is not present with the Yamaha. Ditto Kay Starr’s voice, along with the muted brass and other orchestral instruments on the latter album.

 

Then the timing - ‘Highway To Hell’ just damn(sic)-well boogies on the Dual (feet can’t keep still), not so the Yamaha. Despite the fact that the Dual is distinctly light in the bass the kick-drums and bass-lines are still unmistakably there and making their intrinsic part in the music known. Both decks have strobes which tell me they are both very speed-stable in terms of drift and very-low rate wow, but sometimes I think I might perceive a little variation with the Dual. But then again I could be looking too hard and imaging it (I find using peripheral vision is the best way to do this).

 

I have to assume that the direct drive ‘cogging’ you’ve been discussing is the root of these singular differences in sound, but it’s surprising that artefacts down in single and double-digit Hertz could be responsible for such a profound difference in them. My friend also has the Kay Starr album as a set of three 45’s, which I also transferred. Interestingly, although they actually have a slightly ‘better’ sound in terms of dynamics and even detail, they lack the purity of tone on the LP and thus I believe the tapes were not as well set up as they were for the LP- in fact I think this is actually visible as less rock-solid peaks in spectrograms as they are played, viewed on my PC.

Rainer Scott


dual-cs-505

Classic Dual CS505 belt drive - beats its Yamaha P-520 direct drive rival, thinks Rainer Scott.

 

Hmmm. Thanks for that Rainer. Forensic measurement has revealed only small cogging effects; I have yet to measure anything large. Unfortunately, the presence of cogging was much amplified and speculated upon by the UK press when Direct Drive first appeared and I am not at all certain that an explanation of the sound of DD is anywhere as near as simple as this. Even the mechanical construction of a DD may introduce sonic problems. In your case too I must note you are listening to different cartridges as well. NK

 

MAD ABOUT THE GUIDE!

I am so pleased to see your old Buying Guide back up and running on the internet. I was using it on a very regular basis up until it’s disappearance from the Net and quite frankly (as daft as it may sound), when it went I was lost without it! Thing is, all the stuff that I wanted in the mid 1990s but couldn’t afford is now available 2nd hand at good prices (e.g. eBay and cash converters) and this guide is absolutely ideal for helping out with research on this older (but golder) stuff (for example turntable cartridges and mid end CD players as upgrades). Apart from product reviews, I find it very useful for checking this 1990s stuff’s price when new, to give a good feel for where the item sits in the pecking order and welcome help with likely component matches. Today's Buying Guides are pretty useless to me. I’m a lot happier now I’ve got the use of yours again.

Richard Franks

 

Thanks for writing in Richard. We resurrected this guide in response to your request and those of so many others who wrote in from around the world. Now we understand the value, I hope we can improve this listing slowly. NK


 

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