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THE TRACKING ANGLE
My experience of the Empire 598 Troubador turntable fully agrees with your evaluation. Indeed, a superb turntable, with clever convenience touches and a beautifully engineered bearing system micro-honed Oilite bearings and lapped chrome steel shafts machined as individually matched. Apart from the rubber mat, the on/off switch and a tiny plastic collar to turn the LP illumination on and off around the arm-rest, there is more metal in this thing than most turntable engineering departments today are allowed to dream of. Makes you want to cry about the MDF jobs that try to pass for engineering today. And yes, pity about the iffy removable cartridge mounting platform system.
But I am confused about your description of its 990 tonearm as a “high mass” arm. The fact your Denon 103 worked well with it would appear to bear you out. However, considering the turntable ruled during the early ‘70s how could such a tonearm cope with the predominantly extremely high-compliance cartridges of the time? Setting aside advertising hyperbole, Empire’s own literature suggests the arm is suitable “for stereo cartridges that can track as low as .01 gram”. Were there any such things? This suggests ultra-high compliance cartridges. How would they work in a “high mass arm”? Is this then the ultimate universal tonearm for both high and low compliance cartridges? We must know. I applaud your efforts to champion vinyl replay and to showcase superb products from the past. The reason I buy Hi-Fi World. More please!
Cartridges are never designed to track at 0.01 grams, even the ultra-compliant early ADCs like the classic Model 25, with a compliance value of around 50, needed 1.0 grams tracking force minimum, but modern (and even many older designs) generally have correspondingly lower compliance cartridge suspensions and favour higher tracking forces.
No arm is equally suitable for low and high compliance cartridges. SME Series III 9 inch arms work well with high compliance cartridges with tracking forces around 1 – 1.5 gm and any arm claiming to be compatible with MC cartridges will be of high-ish mass, to ensure that L.F. resonance is centred around 8Hz or so, avoiding warp frequencies and the extremely bottom of the audio frequency band. AG.
Empire Troubador turntable, able to track cartridges at 0.01gm asks Demetri from Canada?
To your question how could such a tonearm cope with the predominantly extremely high-compliance cartridges of the day, the answer is: badly. But you generalise, as not all cartridges were high compliance; most moving coils were relatively low compliance. The Empire may well have suited them. I did once own a top of the range Empire 1000 ZE/X MM cartridge, with a maximum tracking force specified at 1.25gms, but quite frankly it was barely useable at such a low downforce. Sound quality from Empires was always good, I must say; I rather liked them at the time, although a Stanton 681EEE was my choice for many years during that period. NK
NEWS OF MY WORLD
It is 10 years since I was first introduced to your magazine (at the time I was hunting up valves for my aunt’s 1960s-era radiogram), and within a few issues I was hooked by Hi-Fi World. In doing this I gave up what had been almost three decades of Hi-Fi News and almost every issue now of HFW gives me ideas! I particularly enjoy your Letters pages, hearing the stories of how your readers have put their systems together and their ideas/queries for improving them. Consequently, let me first briefly outline where I am and how I got there.
I was inspired by audio as a 12 year-old when my (Totton, Hampshire) school’s music teacher acquired a brand-new Goldring Lenco GL75 deck, played through a Heathkit amp (assembled by the physics master) and our class listened to Sinfonia Antarctica (a wonderful piece – AG). This was 1963 and the sound was a revelation. I knew then that the production of truly high-quality sound would always be important to me. Of course, I wasn't able to do anything about it until I went to university and in the early 1970s as a graduate student I acquired a Goldring Lenco GL69-Mark II (with Goldring G800 cartridge), a Leak Stereo 70 (from Laskys on Tottenham Court Rd of course) and Tannoy IIILZ Monitor Golds. In terms of construction quality, I’d like to point out that the amp and speakers are still going strong, as I passed them on to one of my sons a few years ago!
The late 70s found me in the U.S. where the turntable was upgraded to a Connoisseur BD1 fitted with a Grace G707 (unipivot) arm and F9E cartridge, plus a Nakamichi 500 cassette deck. I was still using the Leak amp but now powering the Tannoy drive units fitted in boxes that I had built myself using the Lea-Lampton prescription (Lea & Lampton 1972 IEEE Trans AU-20, 200) for optimal tuning of a reflex port.
Bass was now stunning, but the boxes were rather big (approx 3x2x1.5 ft)! My reference recording here is the stunning Virgil Fox direct-to-disc rendition of the Bach Toccata and Fugue on Crystal Clear Records the white vinyl pressing! This contains 20Hz pedal notes that most people don't even realise are there. My modified Tannoys were set to be flat down to 20Hz and the house literally vibrated. With the construction “bug” now firmly established, I was inspired by my friend and office-mate, Mike Lampton, to build his LZ-1 preamp. The design was written up by him in Audio Amateur (1979/1) and was said at the time to be as good as a Hafler DH101. The LZ-1 was based on the Signetics NE5534 op-amp, introduced in the late 70s, the first chip to combine low noise with high slew rate. To complete the chain I constructed a power amp based on OMP-300 MOSFET boards. Headroom was staggering, but I had to watch the volume control very carefully!
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, I had the opportunity to replace the Tannoy drivers with a 3-way system using JBL 2213s (massive, 12-inch bass units), the Jordan 50mm module (mid-range) and JVC ribbon super-tweeters. I shoe-horned these into the boxes I’d built for the Tannoys (but with modified reflex ports) and the effect was very impressive, particularly for the bass. Sadly, the Jordans couldn't handle the power and I abandoned these boxes after I’d managed to accidentally burn out two sets of Jordans!
One Thing Audio improved Quad ESL-57 loudspeakers – "your review was spot on" says Phil Charles.
As an aside, the Nakimichi is still going strong today. In 36 years it has been serviced just twice, with the heads and motor each replaced once. B&W in Sussex are the agents and returned it to mint specification. Just a few months ago I played some cassettes I had recorded from vinyl 20 years ago to my current graduate students, and I was were absolutely stunned that they sounded so much better than MP3! Or CD for that matter!
Fast forward to today and my current system. It’s an LP12/Akito/Adikt brought up to 2004 spec, but still retaining the old Valhalla power supply (Lingo was just too expensive) and it plays into a WAD Pre3 system which, with judicious use of the tape monitor output, allows me to feed it into two power amps. Why so? Well, I have two separate sets of speakers, a pair of Rega ELAs in the living room and a pair of Quad ESL57s (OTA-modded to 2004 spec) in the dining room. The latter I had acquired a decade ago when an elderly couple living nearby sold up and were disposing of everything. They had a complete Quad system bought in 1962! I used the Quads for a few years in original form until I read the HFW article about the OTA mods (Oct 2003). I (almost) instantly popped them in the car and drove them up to Leicester to have them operated on by OTA.
All I can say is that your review then was spot on, and visitors here never ceased to be amazed by the sound the modded Quads produce. You might be interested in a small, but very effective additional mod I have made to the Quads. Since I still possessed my California-era JVC ribbons, I found that they sit beautifully on the wooden base provided by OTA. Wiring them in parallel with the Quads provided a delightful extra “fizz” to the top end of guitar, violin and flute that takes it that bit closer to the sound of the original instrument.
Ah yes, the two power amps. The Regas are right now being driven by a PrimaLuna Prologue II, which gives a much smoother and more balanced sound than my home-made OMP-300 power amp. And the Quads are driven by a Leak Stereo 20, fully rebuilt to top spec by Classique Sounds. The latter is a delicious combo, but of course not for headbangers (my own tastes are classical, especially early music and polyphony, plus rock, folk, electronica).
A quick aside about the Regas too. In the mid-90s my boisterous 11-yr old twin boys succeeded in knocking over both speakers which, given the lack of flexibility of the heavily moulded speaker cable, managed to break both speaker terminal units. I found Rega’s contact details, e-mailed them about what had happened, asking whether replacement units were available and what the cost would be. Two days later I received by post a pair of replacement terminal units, gratis. Now that’s what I call service!
A Leak Stereo 20 from Classique Sounds sounds "delicious" with Quads.
So, why am I telling you all this? There are two components in the turntable that are ageing. The Adikt is now 7 years old, has been well used, and I think it’s coming up for replacement. I have been very pleased with it, especially when given top quality pressings (as with some of your reviewers, I love the recent Knopfler work, especially “Kill To Get Crimson” and his duo with Emmylou Harris, “All The Road Running”, both of which are quite superb).
The cartridge I had been thinking of was the Ortofon 2M Black, which you have raved about. However, having been subjected to almost a decade of Hi-Fi World cartridge reviews, I’m starting to feel that I should at least consider the MC route (I have the Pre3 with the option to connect the transformers inside for MC). The cartridges that I am thinking about (and which gives you an idea of price range) are the Ortofon Rondo Bronze, Dynavector DV20X, and the recently released AT-OC9MLIII. What are your thoughts on these in my system as compared with the MM route? And would their performance be limited by the Akito? I hadn't really been thinking about replacing the arm, but could be persuaded to do so if absolutely necessary.
The second component is the power supply. My Valhalla unit is probably almost 25 years old! That’s because my Linn was acquired in the early 90s from The Sound Gallery in High Wycombe when it was run by the quite outstanding Colin Welford. You will have guessed by now that I’m an academic, with salaries which make it tricky to enter true audiophile territory upgrades being done then). While I still think the Lingo is expensive (and the SE upgrade absurdly so), I would still like to consider taking this opportunity to “go DC”.
Perhaps the obvious solution is the Hercules II that you reviewed in HFW (Oct 2007), but I can't understand why you haven't reviewed (or even mentioned as far as I can tell) the Origin Live d.c. motor kits. Given that it appears to be very well-known (and has been adopted by some of your reviewers!), is there a reason for this? The OL includes a number of options (“standard”, “advanced” and “ultra”) which span a factor of two in price range. How do they compare with the Hercules? It would seem to me that the OL range ought to be of interest to people with a wide variety of systems, not just LP12s, so why not review the whole range? And which of them would you recommend in my case?
Hi Phil. Your Akito would be bettered by an arm like the Rega RB301, or one of the Rega modified jobbies such as the Inspire X100 in this issue, or perhaps better like an SME. We now have Benz Micro making some impressive budget MCs and you should well add them to your list. NK
Hi Phil. We will be reviewing the Origin Live power supply in due course, but meanwhile I think you should seriously think about the Inspire Hi-Fi Vivid LP12 mods package; I tried this recently and was immensely impressed by the difference it made for under £1,000. The cartridge is the first priority though; I personally would plump for the Audio Technica AT-33EV (£475) which is a brilliant mid-price moving coil; it’s streets ahead of the Linn Adikt, offering a smoother, sweeter, more detailed and expansive sound; it will be like moving from AM to FM radio! The OC9 is also very good, but apart from a fraction more dynamic punch it’s wholly inferior to the AT33EV, sounding slightly colder, harder, more mechanical and less musically engaging.
Inspire Hi-Fi Vivid LP12 – I tried this recently and was most impressed, says David...
The Dynavector is fine too, but lacks the EV’s detail and sophistication, especially in the treble, even if it’s a tad more rhythmically bouncy. The Ortofon Rondo Bronze is also a fine design, but again I’d take the EV over it, the Rondo not having the latter’s subtlety and intricacy. Hope this makes my love for the AT33EV clear! The Akito will track a good moving coil like this well, but you would be rewarded by going up to the likes of an SME 309 or, better still, an Origin Live Silver Mk3a. DP