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December 2011 Issue - page 2

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December 2011 Issue
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READ ALL ABOUT IT!

English is not my “mother language” and not even the second or third I’ve learned so, knowing you’ll understand, I beg you, in beforehand, to excuse my English. Especially the use of comas in big doses that I know you do not particularly enjoy in the UK.


The opportunity to write you a letter has been left open by your twentieth anniversary. I had to congratulate in one hand and in the other wanted to thank you too. So, here I leave my congratulations and thanks to you all, present and past Editors and Reviewers, for the excellent job you are carrying out, since the beginning of HI-FI World in 1991.


I first picked Hi-Fi World from a news stand for pure chance, I confess, as I was looking for Stereophile at Heathrow airport while waiting for a delayed flight back to Portugal and I needed something to wash out the bore. It was your November 2002 issue. From then on, with very few exceptions, I bought HI-FI World every month.


I’ve been a subscriber for a few years but I abandoned subscription for a bunch of reasons, none having to do with the magazine, you or your former alter egos at HI-FI World.


At the time I was living in a flat and the mailbox was really too small so, the postman used to ruin the magazine’s cover every month and sometimes, as a bonus, also some pages got partially torn off. The magazine used to arrive folded in two so, for two years I think I ended up buying a second issue at a news stand in Lisbon. It cost me a fortune.


Sorry, the electronic number was not a question at the time as it still isn’t an option, at least for me. I have to hold the magazine in my own hands, smell it, feel it, read it from back to front, starting from the vinyl pages, then the ads, then anything about a new DAC or a fantastic new CD player and then, the rest of it. I like to read it sitting on the sofa, or at table in the morning, taking breakfast and I love to read it in bed at night when everybody else at home is already asleep. I love to have it on my desk and look inside the Mag for interesting sites’ addresses in every issue thus I also use it as a guide to surf the internet.


It’s the same with LPs vs. CDs. An LP is something more tangible than a CD, its bigger, nicer to hold with both hands and also each label has its own exclusive smell. Parlophone has a nice smell, Decca is quite neutral, Verve LPs have a distinctive smell too but, I’ll never forget the smell of Capitols “The Beatle’s First” and the Beatle’s “Something New !” that I got in the mail 47 years ago, when I was ten! I still love their mix better than the equivalent European’s records one.

I love going through the used equipment adds looking for any peace of kit that attires my attention. It’s a HI-FI New World I get into every month that usually lasts for at least three weeks and then, it’s time to start the long wait for the next issue. I love your Christmas issue and your yearly Awards one. Sometimes a reviewed item is intriguing enough to make me go and try to audition it at a Dealer. Some of my Hi-Fi purchases were big successes, I must say and resulted directly from your reviews which opened my mind to different perspectives and new paths to achieve “musical nirvana”.


You have sent me in a quest that 20 years ago I didn’t even know existed. It has been a very rewarding journey and a good run for my money. I particularly like the monthly “Icon Audio’s add”. It is reassuring to know that they are succeeding as a company and at the same time launching quality products at real world prices. I’ve listened to PS3 a couple of weeks ago and was amazed. It is really good, especially with low output MCs. An outstanding phono stage.


I dropped all my other Hi-Fi mags’ subscriptions, namely, Stereophile, Hi-Fi Choice, Hi-Fi News and Hi-Fi + (I used to buy this one for the exceptional graphics and the excellent pictures of esoteric equipment), some French and a German one too.

Do you know why I kept attached to HI-FI World? Like Sir Winston Churchill used to say: (quote) “There is no such thing as public opinion, there’s only published opinion” (unquote).


Hi-Fi World guarantees freedom to its readers. That’s why. You suggest but you do not impose your views. Your readers are, by the end of the day, psychologically free to make up their own minds about every item you have reviewed.

When answering reader’s letters, whenever you suggest something, you usually explain the reasons for your suggestions. That is rare and seldom to be found in modern journalism. You’re publishing an outstanding Magazine, not running the “War Propaganda Ministry”.

Thanks for your achievement.

Mario Kopke Tulio

Portugal

 

 

 

lisbon431

 

Mario Tulio buys Hi-Fi World from a newstand in Lisbon. It is available around the world.


Hi Mario. Your English seems fine to me; your letter is barely edited here and it makes as much or more sense than most from the U.K.!

Thank you very much for your praise, all the way from Portugal. It is nice to know that listening to well reproduced music affects listeners the same way around the world. We are proud to be a part of it. NK

MORE

Just picked up a copy of the July issue at my news stand and found the article on cables very interesting. Please let’s have more of same and less product reviews. Congrats on your anniversary!

Joe Wdowiak

Canada

Thanks Joe. Well, the snow has cleared, but it is due back soon eh?

I am sure our editor David can find more worthy words on cables, even though they are the most peculiarly controversial and divisive topic in audio. Well, after Mac Minis that is! NK

 

Hi Joe - don’t worry, we’ve got a whole lot more features saved up for this winter, to keep you warm through those crazy snowstorms of yours! DP


 

atlas-cables

 

 

 

Moorgate Acoustics, Sheffield, made up a pair of Atlas Apex speaker leads for Giles and they made a "huge improvement:  deeper, fuller,

more dynamic sound".

ON THE WIRE

I found Neville Roberts article on cables very interesting. As a physicist myself, I was also sceptical about the effect of cables. While I could appreciate that improved screening might be of benefit, but the effects claimed by the nature of the conductor seemed hard to understand. At least I’m not completely alone.

However, I was utterly sceptical about the effect of mains leads. How can something from the wall socket to the component have any effect? And as such my system of Sondek/Valhalla/Akito/K9 / MF A120 and LS3/5as, subsequently replaced by SF Signums, provided 1000s of hours pleasure over a decade of listening, without modification. However, more recent experiences have called this belief into question.


While your article focussed on cables, my own experience suggests that the impact of cables on a system is secondary to two more significant sources of noise: Mechanical noise / resonance and mains noise, which raise the noise floor, masking fine dynamic and frequency details. Your article suggests that the effects of different cables are readily discernible in a £20k system. One would hope so, given that at this level manufacturers spend a much greater proportion of the budget on mains regulation and internal vibration suppression in their products.


However, it is here that I think the root of cable scepticism may arise. Most of us don’t have the luxury of £20k systems, and usually start out with a system of £2k to £5k. Good equipment, but still modest in comparison to a reference system. Now many will be happy with this for years, as I was, but one of the first upgrades that may be considered is likely to be the interconnects. Reviews can give the impression that an interconnect upgrade may offer disproportionate improvements for a relatively modest expenditure (in the context of overall system cost).


However, while users may experience such interconnects making a modest improvement, it is not proportionate to their cost, reinforcing scepticism and suspicion of marketing hype. For example, in the system above, I found little discernible difference between a £50 cable and £200 + cables. I also tried an Isotek GII Mini-sub, but could not identify any improvement. However, I have recently realised that this was due to the system not being sufficiently optimised for mains and mechanical system noise for the increased resolution of the interconnect to be perceived, as the effect was below the noise floor of the system.

My system is now Sondek/Valhalla/Akito/Goldring1006 (which desperately deserves upgrading) & Dino/Dino+ / Cyrus CD8se2 / Sugden A21SE and the SF Signums. Recent optimisation has included: Sondek on wall shelf; dedicated SF stands for the speakers (massive improvement in bass depth and tightness as well as imaging across the board); Nordost Pulsar points under the CD (these I consider a component performance doubler:  with them the component sounds as good as an unoptimised component of twice the price). CD is now on one Pulsar point with two Sorbothane blocks, on a lump of granite on more Sorbothane; amp is on Pulsar points on an acrylic shelf (which offers better mechanical damping than wood or glass); Vertex AQ Silver Jaya mains shunt on the first mains multiway socket; Vertex AQ Standard Roraima on CD player.


Up to this point I’d been using unbranded (Seduction Audio) interconnects and speaker cable (bi-wire silver-plated multicore) and found, as a result of the above upgrades, a vast improvement in dynamic range, resolution, imaging etc. and an extremely engaging sound. I then tried two £200 interconnects (MIT and Chorus), but found no significant improvement over the Seduction Audio cables. At this point you may think I’m supporting the argument for scepticism, but one side-effect of these upgrades was that some harshness in the treble had become apparent as fatigue after extended listening. So I asked my local Hi-fi retailer (Moorgate Acoustics, Sheffield) and they made me up a pair of AtlasApex speaker leads (in 2 hours - thanks Dave!) which I auditioned.


Huge improvement:  deeper, fuller, more dynamic sound with greater separation across the sound stage, but with a smoother response over the frequency range. The leads never made it back to the shop, such was the improvement!


In terms of assessing performance, what I find is that when something is right there’s almost a sense of relaxation in the delivery of the music. It’s the difference between the effortless delivery of a maestro and the same piece, performed equally well, but by someone for whom it’s requiring all their abilities to deliver. There’s a sense of having to work harder (don’t you just love these objective, quantifiable and reproducible measures?).


Anyway, back to the point. There was an offer on AtlasNavigator interconnects, so I took one to try as I had been thinking about re-cabling with just one manufacturer’s cables for consistency. With the new speaker cable in place, I found that I could now easily determine the improvement delivered by the interconnect, which at £140, was cheaper than those I had previously auditioned. This was a bit of a surprise, but I think demonstrates the importance of system optimisation at other levels. I then tried the Atlas Electra, the next step up the range, which should have been a further step change in performance, but only demonstrated a slight improvement, with a little more refinement and sense of acoustic space.


My conclusion is that, if you can’t hear a difference between different interconnects, it may be that there are unoptimised issues elsewhere. I believe this is probably an indication that in my system there is either further scope for optimisation, or I’ve reached the limits of performance. If so, I am stunned by the level of improvement in my system that has been achieved, though I do still believe that further optimisation will deliver yet more performance, without needing to upgrade components (which requires some discipline, I can tell you!).


My experience suggests that without considering mechanical and mains noise in system optimisation, upgrading interconnects alone is not going to deliver the anticipated level of performance improvement, but a system wide program of optimisation needs to be considered. I would suggest that mechanical noise is the main culprit, followed by mains, and that these deserve addressing in this order, before considering interconnects. There is no single magic fix. All elements of system performance need to be considered together. Oh, and trust your ears!

Giles Morrison

Sheffield

 

 

vertex-

Giles Morrison uses Vertex mains filters, and Vertex also have isolating cones and isolation platforms in their product range.



Very true, Giles. Although it’s important to point out that – in my experience – one of the major transmission systems for airborne or floor/wall-borne vibration (i.e. mechanical noise) is... cables! Yes, those little wires, often resting on your equipment table (itself a great big receiver of airborne vibrations) pipe those vibrations straight into your arm, CD player or turntable via the interconnects. That’s why (I think) the cable dielectric also has a role to play in damping and/or sinking and/or isolating this noise from the componentry. As a result, I place my cables on little Sorbothane pads, so they don’t rest directly on my equipment rack, and I ensure they don’t touch a rear wall and/or floor. This has a huge effect on sound, I find.


I’m in the strange position of being regarded as a non-believer in cables by many manufacturers (apparently we don’t review enough – so they say!), whereas many sceptical readers are outraged by my even reviewing a couple a month. In my view, cables emphatically do make a difference (note I said ‘difference’, not ‘improvement’), but it depends on the rest of your system and how it is set up before that difference can be profound. If it’s a dog’s breakfast in terms of component choice and siting, you’re unlikely to get big gains from expensive cables. As always then, it’s a question of balance! DP

 

Thanks for the broad view Giles. It is a good point that all factors affecting performance need to be considered and addressed systematically. Support structures do seem important and there’s much anyone can do to build better shelves, solid tables and what have you – and this is a popular pastime with many readers.

From what we are told too, mains supplies can differ quite dramatically in regulation (ability to stay at one voltage whether used heavily or lightly) and cleanliness (i.e. waveform distortion and noise). Adam Smith, for example, suffers a poor mains supply and finds filters make a big difference, whilst I have a very clean and stiff supply that is less susceptible to change. This does of course mean that some users will not notice big differences, whilst others will – a confusing factor! NK



 

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