July 2011 issue

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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.






A Musical Fidelity V-Link will prise out better sound from Alex Cohen’s Mac Mini.



A couple of years ago I decided (with some persuasion) that my hi-fi took up too much of the living room space and started to look for a solution. I found a small box called a Benchmark DAC1 Pre and hooked it up to a Mac Mini. To my surprise I was blown away by the sound quality and decided to sell my large, room dominating separates. My setup now consists of the above and a pair of ATC SCM20SL Active towers.


I have always ripped my CD collection using the Apple Lossless encoder, believing it to be the best way of doing so with the Mac Mini. I have tried other ways e.g. WAV, AIFF and cannot hear any differences between them. Hence I was surprised to read in your recent review of the Electrocompaniet PD-1 that ALAC sounded mediocre when compared to uncompressed WAV! I am still a long way from needing a hearing aid but as much as I try I cannot hear a difference between ALAC and uncompressed WAV, despite trying just after reading your article.  Please help me, as if I am losing quality when ripping my CDs I want to know before I go too far down the wrong path. I believe this is a large area of confusion and with so many manufacturers and customers now using PCs, Macs and other wotsits as music servers I feel it should be addressed.


To confirm, I connect the Mac to my Benchmark using USB and the Benchmark to the ATCs with Chord balanced interconnects. I find the sound very musical, detailed and balanced. I own a Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD player that I occasionally use as a CD player and find that the Mac, even though not considered a true audio product, sounds far better. I also set the Mac for 24bit 96kHz irrespective of the file being played as Benchmark recommend. I find it sounds better than 16 bit 44.1 even though that is the original format. I eagerly await a response.

Alex Cohen


Hi Alex. If you can’t hear a difference then don’t let it worry you – but there is one. Through my system it’s clearly audible, and manifests itself as a slightly opaque, cloudy haze and a touch less rhythmic flow, plus a slight flattening of stage depth.


How can this be? Well, given that ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) files are identical bit for bit to WAV, the cause must lie not in the files but the way they’re delivered. I can only speculate that the extra processing load, allied to possible jitter issues, causes this. Personally I would always run WAV if I possibly can; why not? These days storage space is not an issue, and surely the best computer file is the original.


There’s also the issue that you may at some future date wish to move to a different platform, which may not play ALAC, in which case you’ll have to transcode the ALAC files to WAV anyway.


If I were you, I’d invest in a Musical Fidelity V-Link (£99); plug this in to your Mac Mini’s USB socket, and feed the V-Link’s optical digital out into your Benchmark; you should find a noticeable improvement in sound. This is because the V-Link clocks the Mac Mini asynchronously and its optical out will remove the transmission path of electrical noise into the DAC. Hope this helps! DP


Our measurements have shown substantial jitter on the output of a Mac Mini and little on a Cambridge 650BD. Your findings are at odds with this Alex, so other factors may be involved. NK



I have a pair of B&W Silver Signature 25 loudspeakers (the model with the slate stands). It came supplied with solid silver cables that have become rather fragile. The PTFE insulation has become so brittle by now that the slightest twist could break the cables. I’d like to be prepared when disaster strikes, so I’d very much appreciate if you could suggest a suitable replacement.

Jan Grinaert,





Dating from 1991, B&W say the Silver Signature can be refurbished at the factory.

Hi Jan. One obvious answer is another B&W and the B&W 804D I reviewed in our February 2011 issue comes to mind. It was very impressive in its sound, if not so impressive under measurement. The Diamond tweeter is a little weird: fantastic sound, but one-note with a sparkling diamond quality, so everything sounded great, but without any internal variation! I have never come across anything quite like it. The midband was luminously clear too, and very projective, if not with the levity of a true monitor. The bass was satisfactory but no better and a trifle disappointing; I'm sure B&W could do better. I suspect in a showroom the 804D will blow most else out of the window it is so obviously spectacular, so give it a listen. After the shiny sound of the Silver Signature it may well appeal.


Also, B&W are very good on service so you probably do not have to say goodbye to the Silver Signatures if you do not want to. NK


Why not keep the Silver Signatures. It may not be the most dynamic performer, but it is subtle, detailed and musically expressive and I suspect it will still hold its own even after all these years  AG


The Bowers & Wilkins Signature Silver 25 dates from around 1991, and did come supplied with a three-metre cable that ran from the crossover to the cabinet. Unfortunately, Bowers & Wilkins is no longer able to supply these cables as spares, as some of the elements of the cable are no longer in production. However. Bowers & Wilkins does offer a repair service, which would be of use here. Due to it being a prestigious model, Bowers & Wilkins would prefer that the speaker be returned to their service centre for refurbishment. Also, due to the age of the Silver Signature 25, Bowers & Wilkins would also conduct a full check and test on the speakers to ensure they are functioning to specification. You should call Bowers & Wilkins on 01903 221700 to arrange for this service.

Shawn Marin

(B&W's P.R.)



I read with great interest Rafael Todes article on the Garrard 401/Hadcock GH242 partnership as I have a 301/242 combo. It always puzzled me that the Hadcock GH228 is in your World Classics feature yet Noel Keywood admits he was never a fan. I am at the point of trying to decide which cartridge to choose to improve upon the detail of my Goldring 1042 (I also have a Shure V15 Mk4 in hiding). I know that the Cartridgeman's Music Maker III is usually matched with the GH242 but I thought that perhaps there are more choices in the moving coil category so in anticipation I have recently bought a Graham Slee Elevator to pair with my Era Gold V.

Recent answers in the letters column have made me wonder whether the Ortofon Rondo Bronze or the Audio Technica AT 33EV may be suitable candidates as they do not emphasize the treble and are easy on surface noise. Bearing this in mind, should I push the boat out and go for a Kontrapunkt or the Benz Micro SL?

The rest of my kit consists of: Cyrus CD8SE +PSXR, Cyrus DAB 8.0, Cyrus Pre VS2+PSXR, Cyrus Mono Xs and Spendor S5e speakers. Interconnects are a mixture of Atlas Cables Voyager, Explorer and Equator whilst the speakers are bi-wired cables with QED Silver Anniversary, each cable being 10m long.

What moving coils would suit the GH242, bearing in mind that some of my singles (and odd LP for that matter) are not mint condition. My taste in music is mainly sixties soul, Tamla Motown and R&B. Having been impressed by the bass of the Totem Hawks at the Bristol Hi-Fi show a few years ago, I wonder if these would be a suitable upgrade to the Spendors? An over-riding factor in speaker choice from my advisor is they must be available in maple and not significantly taller than the Spendors. The room is approximately 13 feet square (photos attached).


John Watson




John Watson's impressive Cyrus system, topped out by a Garrard 301 turntable and Hadcock GH242 arm.

I have a similar ambivalence towards many BMW and Mercedes cars, so I see no contradiction in NK's admission that he is not a fan of the Hadcock. Indeed our industry is full products that are worthy yet which in some respects amount to less than the sum of their parts.


Well set up in an appropriate player, I would always opt for a good moving coil over an MM cartridge. You should find that in most cases this choice will deliver a more even, detailed and firmer sound, with superior dynamic resolution, and a more solid sounding, better integrated bass. The relatively low compliance of most MCs is generally beneficial too, integrating well with most high quality arms, on the whole without detriment to tracking ability. AG


Hi John. Assuming you have an 8ft high ceiling Cara, a room acoustics programme, shows that at the listening position you have a strong modal peak around 50Hz in your 13ft square room and we publish the wave pattern at this frequency where, as expected, there is a pressure peak along each wall at 50Hz. So, in simple non-technical terms your room honks!


A small loudspeaker is best in this situation and you need high quality too. Audiosmile Kensais come to mind as they are a small loudspeaker that won't over drive your room's low frequency modes but will reveal the quality of your system. The Audiosmiles have a fabulous sound that appeals to everyone, even if the price does not at £2300. However, this is in line with other quality miniatures like Monitor Audio's Platinum PL100, another model you might like to consider. Consider also loudspeakers from Usher and KEF.








High pressure against the walls at 50Hz in a 13ft square room, Cara says.


I found the Hadcock GH228 arm mild mannered and less than easy to use. I can understand its appeal, but it isn't quite to my taste. It is to that of Rafael Todes though, who feels it complements a Garrard 401 perfectly. I will stick to my SME312S 12in magnesium arm on a Garrard 401, which has generally better dynamic resolution. So this is a matter of taste. The Hadcock is a good arm all the same, much respected.


Much as there are numerous well designed and built arms available nowadays, so there are an increasing number of good budget moving coil (MC) cartridges – and by good I mean without screaming treble. The new Benz Micro Ace is one of them and so is the Audio Technica AT33 EV I am told, although I have not measured or listened to it. The AT OC9 MkII does have peaky treble and although quality is fine, I am not personally in love with its lack of balance. NK


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