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February 2012 Issue

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February 2012 Issue
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World mail February 2012 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 -
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.

 


 

allegri-string-quartet

The Allegri String Quartet prove that not all musicians are bored by hi-fi. One of them – the handsome one at right! – gives his views below.


THE BEST DEFENCE

Have you ever had to defend your interest in hi-fi? What did you say? I had often noticed that a friend of mine seemed to ‘switch off’ when I mentioned hi-fi. Yes, I know that doesn’t sound too unusual – we’re all into different things – but this friend was a professional musician and it seemed odd. I suppose I had assumed that a musician would be all for anything that made the listening experience more transparent, but during a recent conversation I detected not just indifference but an edge of scorn, even hostility.


Rather than let it pass, I threw tact to the wind and dug deeper. He’s very polite and nothing definite was said but, reading between the lines, he seemed to think that hi-fi experts were tone deaf gadget freaks who cared more for ear candy and tinkering with equipment than with the artistry of the music itself. I’m polite too, so we moved on to other things but later I felt that I should have put up some kind of defence. You know how it is when you think things through after the fact and kick yourself...


First I wondered if I should have suggested that perhaps there are reasons why some musicians might not want their performances recorded in revealing detail. No, that would be childish and I don’t believe it anyway! Then, for a terrible moment I wondered if he could be right, at least in part. I come from a technical background, as I’m sure do many hi-fi enthusiasts, and it’s true that I do appreciate the equipment for it’s own sake, but no, that doesn’t take anything away from my appreciation of the music – the music is most definitely the driving force.

 

Perhaps its just that hi-fi enthusiasts are perfectionists, people who cannot relax and enjoy anything unless they know that they have done everything in their power to do it right. That’s no bad thing. Perhaps experimenting with the equipment is not just geekery but an excuse to rediscover our favourite tracks over and over, the subtle differences in presentation tricking our brains into the magical excitement of new discovery time and again. How many other interests allow people to do that? Any thoughts?

Dr Robert M. Carter

 

Rafael Todes,  Allegri String Quartet says –

I sometimes wonder why musicians don’t have more curiosity for matters audio. I think if you do the real thing, then any form of reproduction is just that. Whether accurate or inaccurate – it doesn’t make that much difference. For a musician who knows a piece of music well, it is a bit like talking to someone in a noisy, crowded bar, your brain seems to compensate for what’s missing. I personally get a great deal of pleasure from music that is beautifully played and reproduced. It is an aesthetic thing, and I partially enjoy the ability to deconstruct a piece and hear all the lines in great detail. That is after all what I spend most of my time in the Allegri Quartet doing, deconstructing phrases and putting tonal subtleties under a microscope to achieve the desired blend.


The other miraculous thing for me, is that a good recording can be the nearest thing you get to communing with late, great artists. There is certainly a lot that may be learned from hearing great artists with the greatest transparency possible. This is where my non-believing colleagues may be missing out most! A former colleague of mine used to edit Quartet recordings on a Dixon’s Saisho system, where a third of the Cello’s register was not being reproduced. He should have been had up for crimes against audio! RT

 

 

You don’t need to have the beautiful brush strokes or sublime pencil technique of Leonardo Da Vinci to appreciate his amazing artistry. Likewise, musical illiterates such as myself (well, I did get Music ‘O’ Level’ and Grade 5 theory, but that hardly makes me Karajan!) are still able to appreciate fine music, despite not being able to make it. Indeed, I’d suggest that precisely because I can’t hear orchestras in my head when I look at a series of notes on a musical stave, I need a good hi-fi to make it come to life – and thus let me appreciate its beauty fully. A great system gets me closer to that musical event; I can get all the emotion and power out of music, just as a concert pianist can, but I need a little extra help connecting to it. That’s why – I would guess – many musicians don’t need decent systems like us mere mortals do. DP

 

Hi Robert. Musicians vary in their approach to hi-fi, as much as anyone else I find. I once knew a pianist who strained every part of herself over interpretation and the sheer physical side of playing a piano, yet could not begin to hear sound quality differences in hi-fi; they just did not seem to be within her perceptions. But equally there are musicians who are perfectly happy with the notion of getting the best from reproducing equipment and Rafael Todes, who plays violin in the Allegri String Quartet and reviews for us, is one of them, as you have just read.


Even from my position immersed in the subject I can see how ‘accurate’ reproduction isn’t necessarily as viscerally exciting, at least with Rock music, than ‘enhanced’ reproduction and indeed one magazine recently declared accurate equipment “boring”. For them ringing treble and thunderous bass is the quintessence of high fidelity, whilst for me and so many others it is not. Faced with this dichotomy I can sympathise with any musician who finds some of the not-so-uncommon views within high fidelity facile.


All the same, there are plenty of products that work gloriously well, are not always expensive and give a great deal of pleasure – and it’s useful to know what they are and how to get the most from them. That’s why we are all immersed in the madness! NK


 

MATERIAL WORLD

In recent months I have been considering whether to go for an Isokinetic or Inspire acrylic platter upgrade for my Rega P25. Comments within Hi-Fi World concerning the “unsuitability” of glass platters, with their potential to ring, got me thinking in this direction, especially when I tapped the platter and heard the ring for myself. However, with the Origin Live platter matt fitted, a record placed and my Michell record clamp firmly in place, the whole assembly seems to be “dead” !

In addition, while within the reviews of the platter upgrades, glass is derided as a platter material, there is no comment regarding its suitability in the review of the Rega P3 in the November issue. So is it really something I consider?


Regarding resonance, I recently purchased and am very happy with a Naim Uniti. However, contrary to the “World Awards” review in the January 2010 edition, the “compact non-resonant” case rings like a bell when lightly tapped! I queried this with Naim and they replied that they hadn’t had any complaints regarding sound degradation and that, though counter intuitive, they believed that adding damping material may lead to slight sound degradation. I found that simply laying the weighty Uniti remote on top of the case damped it quite effectively, but I can’t say it made any significant improvement in the sound.


Finally, buying the Uniti meant that I also needed to get a phono preamp. I had a good look around and before the Uniti arrived decided to kick off on a low budget and bought the Genera kit from Graham Slee. Having built it I initially tried it out with my amp at the time, a Unison Unico with its inbuilt pre amp. From the outset the improvement was amazing. The Genera was quieter, had a more controlled bass, and made a much better job of staging with instruments and singers easily picked out. The kit is well presented with clear instructions and there are about 24 pages of design notes and comments on the Graham Slee web site.

Denis Holliday

 

waterfall-victoria-evo

Waterfall glass loudspeakers look lovely and sound it too, but their glass cabinets ring, adding 'nice'  colouration.

 

 

Reviewing the Waterfall Evo glass loudspeakers demonstrated yet again that coloration isn’t always ‘bad’. They were coloured alright – our decay spectrum measurements clearly showed this – but they had a lovely airy, clear and bright demeanour and great stereo imaging. In this case I could clearly understand why any listener would prefer them over something more ‘dead’ – but uncoloured of course. But it is artifice and truly uncoloured reproduction, as delivered by open panel loudspeakers for example, is the way to go.


I am no fan of the clanky nature of Naim casework, but it has the merit of being non-magnetic aluminium, which affects the sound less than steel. The best chassis are made of copper, but it is a very soft metal that deforms easily. NK

 

Hi Dennis – believe me, the Uniti’s casing is “non resonant” compared to many pressed steel cases that I encounter on a monthly basis, which act like a sort of mechanical capacitor, storing vibrations and dissipating them slowly, smearing the sound criminally. Naim’s philosophy is that its casing is light and doesn’t store energy, even if it does vibrate ever so slightly. This should give a tighter, faster sound – and so it goes.


Cabinet damping is a fascinating topic – line your hi-fi with Sorbothane and often the tonal balance is changed, being deeper, darker and smoother, but sometimes it can slow the attack transients, making for a more leaden sound. This can actually improve some systems, but deaden others – it’s a case of sucking it and seeing. What we can be sure about is that isolating your hi-fi from ground-borne vibrations is always a good thing – some Sorbothane under your hi-fi’s feet works every time for me. Glass is not ideal as a platter material, but the combination of glass and another damping material can work better than you’d think – hence the improvement in sound with your OL mat. Basically you want to get your platter into a state where it doesn’t go “daaaankkkk” when you flick it with your forefinger. It needs to give a dull “dump”-type sound. DP


 

 

SMOOTH MOTION

I bought a set of Martin Logan Electromotion speakers about one month ago and I was glad to see that your review of them in the October edition of Hi-Fi World aligned with what I thought of the speakers.


In your review you state the Electromotion can sound bright and grubby if given half a chance with an unsympathetic choice of amplifier or source component. I am soon to purchase an amplifier and would appreciate any advice on what to buy to avoid building a bright and grubby system. My system so far is as follows: PC, M2 Tech Young DAC, Van Den Hul The First Ultimate Interconnects, Electromotion speakers.


I would like an amplifier that does not roll off the top end, has taut bass, yet is sweet, smooth and not bright. I was considering one of the following integrateds: the Pathos Classic One, Creek Destiny II, Electrocompaniet PI-2, Aaron XX. Please advise whether you consider any of the above amplifiers to be a sympathetic choice for the Electromotions. If not, please advise me of amplifiers that you would consider suitable for this purpose.


I also need to buy speaker cables. I would appreciate any advice you have on speaker cables that deliver a similar sound signature (sweet, smooth and not bright). Thank you for your consideration of my request.

Owen Arndt

Australia

 

 

martin-logan-electromotion

What amplifier should I use to drive my new Martin Logan Electromotion loudspeakers, asks Owen Arndt


 

Hi Owen. The ‘grubby’ bit was Alvin’s description of bass / lower midrange quality from its dynamic bass unit, using an amplifier unable to keep a grip. Of the amplifiers you list the Electrocompaniet P1-2 best suits your needs and tastes as it is crisp, clean and able to maintain good bass control.


I suggest you listen to Van Den Hul cables since you have their interconnects and I assume you are happy with them.  You do not mention price but their Magnum Hybrid is a suggestion as a starting point. NK


 

BLU-RAY BLUES

I bought the Cambridge 650BD Blu-ray multiformat player due to your recommendation. I like it very much, but still my combo of Pioneer PD-S06 and a ‘lampizised’ DAC plays CDs way better (with tube output). I discovered that I could connect the 650BD to the DAC with a coax cable with very good sound if I play Blu-ray audio only discs. Due to copyright protection, playing SACD discs with this combo is impossible, which is very unfortunate. However, switching between tracks on the Blu-ray discs resulted in some nasty and loud cracks. Could you suggest a possible solution to this problem?  Thanks beforehand!

best regards

Jan Ove Tangen

Norway

Hi Jan. You cannot output DSD code from the digital audio S/PDIF output but you can play the stereo layer of an SACD by selecting it in the player’s menu. You get standard CD digital, or 16bit PCM at 44.1kHz sampling rate. The 650BD has a very low jitter output so quality should be every bit as good as your Pioneer, but make sure you use a decent digital interlink cable. I use a 650BD and do not suffer ‘cracks’ when changing tracks. NK

 

cambridge-audio650bd

Cambridge Audio 650BD gives "very good sound if I play Blu-ray audio only discs." says Jan Ove Tangen.

 

 

Cambridge Audio say -

We have never experienced ‘cracks’ or other noises when changing tracks using the 650BD’s digital output.  Nor have we had any similar experiences reported to us.

Without carrying out some tests, it is difficult to say whether this issue is caused by the 650BD or by the DAC itself unlocking/re-locking when a track is changed. If possible, it would be worth checking whether this happens on any Blu-ray audio disc, on both (optical and coaxial) digital outputs and also if this happens with a different DAC.  Your dealer may be best placed to assist you with this as they will have different equipment in store to test this with.

 


 

 

CABLE CRITIC

I notice that the editor, and the various contributors, are careful to say cables can make a difference rather than an improvement. Of course they make a difference, I have heard it myself, even though I was a strong non-believer. The reason is simple – a cable is a passive device, it cannot amplify anything. But it can attenuate an audio-frequency signal. Thus a cable may, for example, remove the excessive brightness from a system, as some of your reviews have stated. That does not make the cable in any way good, it is simply offsetting one fault with a second fault. The best cable is the cable with the minimum attenuation at all points of the audio spectrum, and the minimum phase change.


A good starting point is to keep the cables as short as possible, obviously. Do not use a one metre cable if a 20 centimetre one will join the items together. Do not use elaborate cables  they are likely to cause phase shifts. Do not use any cable where the return path is of a different construction than the live path, such cables are a logical nonsense. Thus avoid all cables that have any kind of coaxial construction.


One of your contributors, about a year ago, wrote an interesting and thought provoking article that attempted to clarify this minefield. However, he rather spoilt it with graphs showing the high impedance of 75 ohm coax cables at audio frequencies. Of course  they are optimised for use at much higher frequencies. That is why they are called 75 ohm cables!


Getting to the practicalities. My tests have, very much to my surprise, led me to settle on using flat telephone extension cable for all interconnects other than the very low level moving coil to phono amp cable. It gives by far the clearest and most detailed sound I have ever heard, without attenuating the bass. As I have said, as a passive device, it cannot exaggerate anything either. What’s more, it costs 99 pence for 12 metres from my local 99P store! Please do not say Ah, but your system may not be good enough to take advantage of more expensive cables. I am in the happy position of having some very expensive and well regarded equipment in one room and some much cheaper, but still generally highly thought of components in another. The clarity, detail, and good bass of this very cheap cable is blindingly and instantly obvious on both.


Then we have the even more controversial subject of mains supply and mains cables. I have replaced the ring circuit to both systems with direct spurs from the consumer unit to the systems, using heavy duty cooker cable. This has resulted in a noticeable, but not large, improvement. One of my sources is a laptop. To reduce the possibility of losing data due to mains spikes I have used a Masterplug surge protecting extension lead for this, connected to the ring circuit, not the dedicated spur, as my (generally respected) amplifier manufacturer says Voltage dependent resistors and noise suppressors degrade the mains supply and the sound in their instruction books. I am more inclined to believe them, right or wrong, than the snake oil manufacturers. For reasons I do not fully understand, the background noise level, heard as uneven hiss and rumbling noise between tracks, is reduced to inaudibility if the DACs, which are dCS Debussy in one system and Cambridge Dacmagic in the other, are connected to the Masterplug extensions powering the laptop rather than the dedicated spurs. Perhaps because the laptop and DAC becomes a unit?


However, I do have a problem with some of your cable reviews. A recent review of an 875 pound mains cable says that replacing his previous 400 pound mains cable (from the same manufacturer) with this resulted in a major reduction of hardness and mush and removal of the excessive distortion resulted in...etc. Doesn’t say much for the previous 400 pound cable, or his system, does it?


Finally, a question. I have read tests, in your magazine and others, of dedicated network players, music servers and so on, ranging in price from 400 pounds to 12000. What do they actually give me, other than looking nice, that a laptop, a DAC, and a cheap NAS for backup does not?

Mark Powell,

Southampton

 

 

dcs-debussey

The advanced dCS Debussy with it's unique Ring Dac benefits from a clean digital source, provided by a good server.


 

Mark. We get a stream of letters, many in print every month, from readers who change cables and find they do make an appreciable difference and for most it is an improvement. Trying to suggest they are all deluded is difficult to justify. We also hear clear cable differences and better cables do invariably give better results.

Die hard cable sceptics often use your reductionist logic based on the usual simple lumped parameter electrical model for cables, but as I point out repeatedly, this fails to include influences not in the simple model, such as external interference, possible rectification at diodic junctions and what have you. And the fact that we barely understand how power can be transmitted in a field that lies outside the conductor suggests there is perhaps more to cables than the simple passive model you quote. Look at the references quoted by Matt Rowland in our March 2011 issue, p36, which you can also find in the Letters section of our website. They illustrate that this subject has some depth.


I have heard endless demos of cable differences, Chord running an interesting and convincing demo at shows using headphones. A short time ago at one of these demos I listened to three cables, budget, mid-priced and expensive and heard three different presentations, the mid-priced cable being may favourite for specific reasons. Another listener who had just done the same thing agreed with my views when I discussed them with Chord, suggesting there are differences and they are tangible, not illusory.


As an engineer I understand where you are coming from with your view that construction should be physically symmetric, but then you have not taken into account any need for screening so your logic is neither comprehensive nor infallible I’d suggest. Perhaps there are other variables at work too, that none of us understand.  As Donald Rumsfeld famously noted: “there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns”. Mechanisms that influence cable sound quality I believe fall into the latter category.


What expensive, custom server systems give you is a cleaner digital environment, suffering less noise and interference, with improved clocking to reduce jitter. And you get dedicated audio functionality as well. Item Audio expand on this for you below. NK

 

 

aurender-s10

Music servers like the Aurender S10 reviewed in this issue provide cleaner digital than CD players, our tests show.


 

On digital servers, Item Audio say –

CD transports perform variably according to the quality and implementation of their clock, calibre of power supply,  vibration control and handling of EM/RF ‘contaminants’. The net effect manifests in various forms of jitter and rail noise injected into the mains and conductively carried from the transport to the susceptible DAC and amplifier. Swapping a PC for a CD spinner doesn’t change anything at all about the design goals of the transport.


In some ways, a computer transport is inherently better suited to this task: it has a greater processing resource to dedicate to handling the PCM stream. It sidesteps all the difficulties inherent in clanky optical media mechanisms. It offers clock slaving asynchronous transfer options that, at first glance, appear to make the transport irrelevant. It’s file format, sample-rate and bit-depth are agnostic by design.


However, it’s also handicapped by its own sophistication: a computer operating system inevitably squanders a percentage of its processor resource in activity unrelated to audio. It’s smart enough to know many excellent ways to screw things up (hidden filtering, driver interference, volume dithering, etc).

It’s complexity counts against it when we examine the board design: extremely low-rent, mass produced, densely multi-layer components with Byzantine grounding schemes and high-interference switching creating complex noise harmonics right on the board. Furthermore, the primary power supply is usually (by audio standards) a shoddy piece of work that wouldn’t be given house room by an amplifier designer. Much of this noise will inevitably end up where you least want it because of necessarily imperfect isolation.


Although the disc spinner is a headache, electrically-speaking, the 3.5” hard drive is no angel, creating powerful EM fields and sucking up to two amps during playback. In many ways, the simplicity and purpose-designed nature of the CD transport is superior to a standard PC, as many have learned in audition.

It’s easy to see by examining the innards of a Naim, Linn, Yamaha, Bryston or Aurender ‘server’ that it’s not at all straightforward to deliver a truly clean digital signal to a DAC: it requires costly and very well behaved power supplies and extremely tight regulation of the clock’s environment. Taming rail noise and resultant, or independently generated, timing errors and jitter is a non-trivial matter, and is clearly audible and measurable.


It’s interesting to note from the consensus of professional reviews that no matter how expensive or sophisticated the DAC, and how voluble and persuasive are the theoretical promises of the manufacturer, the transport almost always makes its presence felt in audition. Although ‘bits are bits’, everything about the local playback environment will impact on the DAC. Despite buffering and reclocking, in practice, we never entirely escape the maxim 'Garbage In, Garbage Out'.  

Mark Welsh, Item Audio

 

 

 

chord_cable_demo

 

The Chord Co set up an interesting demo at shows, using headphones to hear cable differences.

 

 


cif-unilver-product

CIF

I was reading a recent copy of Hi-Fi World and one of your contributors was bemoaning the loss of CIF Bathroom with Bleach.

Obviously this has had an adverse impact on his skip diving escapades. I'm cut from similar cloth, having furnished myself with a range items from the civic amenities site behind Battersea power station, a Thorens TD150 turntable and a BBC model B, both strong products in their field when I was a lad. I have a tip to allow him to continue his restorative practices; it may even take his mind off the CIF loss.


Many '70s '80s and early '90s electrical items included buttons, switches and areas of casework made from cream plastic which after many years yellows.

Now this chemical isn't the magic bullet called CIF for full case cleaning when it comes to hi and medium fi, however it can be put to good use on his previously cleaned finds that are now let down by discoloured knobs and trim.

http://retr0bright.wikispaces.com/

It's a bit dangerous, but that just adds to the joy when the item looks new and nobody you know keeled over due to the noxious fumes.

I can assure you it works on all manner of items made from ABS plastic of the whitey, creamy variety that, due to middle age, now have the appearance of an item once owned by a lover of Capstan Full Strength. This find may help to improve his general malaise.

The plastic in general was used on some of the more medium fi, multi purpose Music Centre, or indeed High Street tape-based items rather than hi or indeed high end. RetroBright is at least something to cling to until inspiration strikes in regards to wood and aluminium fascias.

Kind Regards

David Gray

Twickenham, UK

 

 

CIF with bleach was Adam Smith's favourite cleaning agent. David Grey removes discolouration with Retrobright.

 

 

 

Hmmm... CIF with Bleach is basically a mild abrasive scouring agent. Jewellers Rouge is another abrasive, as is Brasso and products like it.

Hydrogen Peroxide, the basis of Retrobright it seems, is an oxidant and so different in its effect. Looks interesting but is, as you say, dangerous – so readers beware. Wasn't hydrogen peroxide used as an oxidant in early rocket motors? I suspect it is a fire / explosion hazard., rather than just noxious. Definitely one for the garden shed! NK


 

A PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE

I am broadly in sympathy with David’s views on the attachment to physical software. The download generation may well not miss something they never experienced, but this points to a significant aspect of music consumption today.


Loosely put, quantity rather than quality characterizes the music collections of younger listeners. Limitless choice, but lightweight involvement. I realize that I am generalising, but the experience of wanting and waiting for the latest single, or album, or fresh interpretation of a classical masterpiece, or browsing in a record store, or waiting for a mail order to arrive means that you are investing a deeper level of interest and commitment in the music. The new disc will probably be played exhaustively for many weeks, then be rested and brought out later for re-assessment, or just for old time’s sake. The album notes and artwork will have been absorbed, and the whole experience becomes a part of your make up. Taking time to appreciate performances one at a time produces a deeper level of satisfaction. While skating around iTunes or Spotify has it’s charms (I use Spotify to identify outstanding albums, which I then buy and enjoy at higher quality) and today’s listeners do have access to the widest range of music, many iPods are crammed with tracks that are never listened to, or given 10 seconds before being discarded. Who has time for “10,000 songs”? Recorded music today is all pervasive and is more heard than listened to, which devalues it, which has resulted in a flood of free and cheap music.

The food world has championed slow food - we should be calling for slow music!

Dave Clewlow

 

 

 

apple-ipod-classic

"Many iPods are crammed with tracks that are never listened to" says Dave Clewlow.

(PICTURE COURTESY OF APPLE)

 

 

PULSE PROBLEMS

I have been helping out a vinyl lover with cables etc, and have come up with a little snag. He bought and fitted a Jelco arm. The arm was secondhand and came with a different arm cable, rather cheap by the look of it and not the pink original as supplied by Jelco. With the Grado Prestige Gold there was a slight pulse type interference, but only after a high setting on the Primare A30 amplifier he’s using, together with the Lehmann cube RIAA stage.


However, he’s just fitted a moving coil cartridge and with the extra gain, at about two thirds setting on the volume control this pulsing is more prominent. I have established that the problem is not mains borne, but suspect that as he lives up near Muswell Hill and on the top floor of a flat, he is getting radio type interference because moving the arm cable nearer to other cables increases or lessens the pulse intensity; of course all the various earthing options have been tried without success, so suspicion is on the cheapo arm cable.


Can you suggest a good quality cable that is reasonably inexpensive, as cost does not always mean good sound.? The Jelco original is around £85 but can be gotten cheaper probably, but I’m thinking someone is probably selling an excellent cable with good reports somewhat cheaper.


The cable has the 5pin mini-DIN fitting into the arm and moulded phonos on other end. I have already hunted through the forums but there is not much info there, so we must come to the experts in the field of BVD and associated hardware. If you could advise we would be grateful. Also, if the matter is of interest it could go in the letters page of mag.


Update on this interference problem. Got the chap to wrap aluminium foil around arm cabling and earth it to earth stud on RIAA stage:  problem almost eliminated. Seems the arm cable needs better screening and is also sensitive to re-radiation from other nearby audio cables, so placing the newly screened arm cable as far away from other cables clears the problem up. So a new arm cable is going to be required.


Have spoken to the BBC and it seems the Alexandra Palace transmitter nearby is still transmitting and is the likely cause of the interference. I have asked the BBC to confirm the half second pulses are to do with the 60kHz clock update signals, but they need to get back to me on this one as too late for engineering staff to comment. The guy in question is looking to possibly buy the Jelco cable, but I have asked him to hold fire pending any advice from your good selves as to possibly better cable for arms....

Many thanks

Vince Hawtin

 

 

 

ally-pally

 

Alexandra Palace transmitter in North London is producing pulse interference in a sensitive phono stage, says Vince Hawtin.


If it is radio pickup, as seems likely, then there are some standard fixes that people in the Crystal Palace area are well be aware of, as that is a real hot spot for radio breakthrough.


The problem always occurs within phono stages, but not for the reason one might imagine. Firstly, radio pickup usually takes place in the loudspeaker leads. You can check this by disconnecting them. The path through to the phono input is thought to be the amplifier’s feedback loop, but it may be through other paths because even earths have impedance at radio and TV frequencies.


As your phono stage is external, radio or TV pickup may be direct into it, with rectification taking place in the first transistor junction. A common fix is to solder a small value capacitor of 100pF or so (the lowest value that works is best) across the base-emitter junction to cure this. This is a cure you will be forced to consider if a better screened lead does not help.


I suggest you contact an arm specialist like Dave Cawley at Sound Hi-Fi about suitable cabling. See his view below. NK

 

The red Jelco lead is in fact wired using Mogami Neglex cable and I often use it on my SME V because of its excellent screening.  If you look hard you can find them for as little as £65 which is quite a bargain!


You will have an enormous amount of RFI where you live and properly shielded cable is going to be a must. In quiet Devon with a metre of cable plugged into my RF spectrum analyser, you can see at least a dozen signals over 10mV. With a poorly shielded cable these will both mix and demodulate in your phonostage producing the effect that you noticed, and often worse.


Wrapping the cable in tin foil is a part way measure and shows the problem to be RFI ingress into the cable you are using. Most moving coil phonostages are in fact loaded with 1,000pF and you might assume this would remove the interference, but with varying levels of earth tracks and the RFI generally getting inside the amplifier and hence being sprayed around, the only certain option is to stop the interference getting inside in the first place.

As an aside, I have tested very expensive arm cables that are not properly screened; maybe the designers thought the almost inaudible intermodulation added to the sound?  Your solution is to buy a proper cable and then some more vinyl.

Dave Cawley

 

mogami-cable

 

 

Dave Cawley of Sound Hi-Fi recommends Mogami Neglex arm cable for its effective screening.



 

ITS MAGIC

My system consists of an original Rega Planar 3, a Marantz PM6003 amp and matching CD6003 CD player completed with a pair of Wharfedale 10.1 speakers. I have also purchased a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic which makes the sound coming from my old laptop a revelation. When I picked up my October copy of Hi Fi World must admit to feeling a bit disappointed to see the Dacmagic was not included in your DAC Supertest. The Dacmagic appears in your standards section so I presumed it would be a great budget Dac to start the Supertest with. I would of really liked to read the opinion of the Hi-Fi World experts on the super little Dac, why was it left out ?


To finish my letter off I would like your opinion on using the Dacmagic as the digital source for my CD6003. Would this be a good idea and would it show an improvement to the current sound quality I get from the CD6003 at the moment. I would be looking to upgrade my CD player in the future but if the Dacmagic would do the job I could use my budget on something else. Once again thanks for the great read every month.

Pete Wood

 

 

 

cambridge-audio-dacmagic

Cambridge Audio Dacmagic is a "super little DAC". Why was it left out?


 

Hi Pete. Can you not just connect up the Dacmagic to your CD6003 CD player and listen to see whether it is an improvement? My guess is that you will not find it so. Although the Dacmagic measures very well and is a typically tightly engineered and a squeaky clean digital device, you will find it has a lighter balance than the Marantz convertor. You may or may not like the difference; I would hesitate to declare it “better”.


There was no hidden reason for not including it in the Supertest. We had already reviewed this little device, favourably, and wanted to give space to other products clamouring to get into the magazine. NK

 

 

BOXED IN

I suspect I am one of the “silent majority” who struggle on with their systems in splendid isolation trying to achieve some kind of audio nirvana but never quite getting there. I think I now need help as blundering on is no longer an option!


Over the past twenty years or so I have slowly moved up the hi-fi ladder by improving my system in fits and starts until it has now reached the position where I am reasonably happy with it. On the good days it really sings and takes me to places where my spirit and soul are healed. On the bad days it merely sounds good. I am now stuck as to which direction to go next in terms of improving it.


My system currently consists of a Squeezebox Touch connected to a NAS storage device which holds my music as uncompressed FLAC files. All network connections are wired ethernet. To this is connected a Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista DAC receiving the coaxial S/PDIF output from the Squeezebox Touch. This feeds a Music First Passive pre-amp (copper version) and a Musical Fidelity A308CR power amplifier, driving KEF Reference 205 speakers. A PS Audio Power Plant Premier re-generates the AC power for the Squeezebox Touch and DAC (but not the power amp) I use various modest starter level cables and inter-connects. Listening sessions are controlled by the iPeng controller running on an iPhone (genius !).


I am now stuck as to how significant improvements can be achieved without spending a king’s ransom.

My initial thoughts were that may be the DAC was the weakest link. I duly borrowed a NAIM DAC for a 3 day trial as it has had some rave reviews and I hoped it would make a major improvement. However, this ended in disappointment as I thought it did not really provide a convincing upgrade from the Tri-Vista and in some areas I reckoned the Tri-Vista was actually better.


Has the art of the DAC really not progressed in almost 10 years? Or was (is) the Tri-Vista just an extremely good DAC and there aren’t major improvements to be had  just variations on presentation?

 

 

I am now considering DACs such as the Antelope Gold, Weiss DAC2, Wyred4Sound DAC2 etc but as it is extremely hard and time-consuming) to arrange home demos of this kind of gear, some pointers would be gratefully appreciated. Would any of these be significantly better than the Tri-Vista? Would I get better value if I got the Tri-Vista fine tuned by Musical Fidelity themselves?


Or, should I be looking at other areas of the system  cables / supports and isolation, perhaps? So many options and possibilities  no wonder I am confused! Perhaps I’ve reached the point of extreme diminishing returns and would be better off spending my money on other things?

My budget is not fixed and depends mainly on whether I consider something to represent good value for money. I find it extremely difficult to free up the time for demonstrations and often buy items un-auditioned but informed by reviews. Like most people, I am a little shy of hi-fi dealers as they will direct me towards what they stock and not necessarily what is right for me. I am looking for significant improvements  not just differences in presentation.  Any help and advice would be gratefully received.

Shahzad Ahmed

 

weiss-dc202-dac

 

 

 

 

Audition the Weiss DAC2 or dCS Debussy as alternatives to your Trivista DAC – but they need high quality digital sources.


 

Hi Shahzad and thanks for your e-mail. Your Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista DAC with its miniature Nuvistor output tubes is well regarded for good reason and you will not easily improve on it unless you move up to the dCS Debussy DAC operating asynchronously from a USB connected source, a considerably more expensive option costing £7500 and a slightly different arrangement that would need top quality digital sources. Do try and audition the Weiss DAC2 as well as this is another strong performer.


However, your sources really need to be looked at first I feel. Your Squeezebox and NAS drive are fine starter items and the Squeezebox is tweakable up to a point, but neither are within the realms of upcoming audio server products that, for example, rely not on spinning mechanical hard drives which are electrically noisy, but upon solid-state drives (SSD) which are quieter and have a higher read rate. We will be reviewing such products in forthcoming issues, including a Mac Mini fitted with an SSD drive and purposed for audio.


naim-unitiservenaimndx

 

Naim NDX network player and Unitiserve NAS drive deliver high quality digital from a variety of sources.


 You have to remember that every day computer sources can use crude clock multiplier circuits that add jitter, a blight proper audio sources avoid through better clock generation and/or re-clocking. Who knows what your NAS drive is doing? It may well be the weakest link in your set up.

An obvious choice to replace both Squeezebox and NAS drive would be Naim’s NDX network player and Unitiserve NAS drive with CD ripping mechanism, reviewed in our October 2011 edition.


Your system is fine and is, I suspect, held back more by source limitations than anything else. NK


 

 

CUT THE MUDDLE

I am trying to sort out the vinyl side of my system. I am happy with the CD replay but am stuck as to which move would benefit me, and I only have the finances for one major improvement. The system is:

Linn LP12, Heed Orbit 2 P/S, Origin Live OL1 arm, Dynavector 20 XL MC, Noteworthy Audio MC Step-up (their entry model), an older style Croft valve preamp (cannot see any indication of model) using MM Input. Most of my listening is through a Musical Fidelity X-Can 3 head amp, and Sennheiser HD 545 Reference headphones. Powercables are all Supra Lo-rad, Supra mains conditioner, and Linn silver interconnects.


I’ve tried various cables to alter the sound and although all sounding different, there is not really an improvement. As you’ve probably guessed the sound, whilst warm, is lacking in treble detail and mostly sounds flat and muddled. I’ve borrowed various solid state phono stages, inc Naim, Dynavector, Whest but they harden the sound, and I return to my warm valve muddled set up again.


I was thinking maybe a cartridge change would help; last year I tried a Benz Micro Glider hi output. Whilst it transformed detail, the treble lift was too much, and I didn’t want to chance it not toning down, so decided not to purchase it. So, maybe an Audio Technica AT33EV may give me more detail and incision, but without grating teeth.


Option 2 would be an Inspire Vivid upgrade. I know how you rate this highly, but would it give me the treble lift I need as well as all the other benefits it has?

Option 3 is to possibly try an ANT Audio Kora 3T LTD stage. As you know, trying different cartridges isn’t easy nowadays, especially as they need running in-time, so your advice would be very much appreciated.

Yours faithfully

Mick Hender.

 

 

 

icon-audio-ps1

Use a carefully engineered and acclaimed valve phono stage like the  Icon Audio PS1 to eliminate muddle.

 

 

If the solid-state phono stages you tried eliminated the muddle then it’s most likely coming from the Croft MM phono stage.

The hardening of the sound is to be expected with transistor phono stages and once attuned to tubes changing back to transistors isn’t so easy, as you find. This being the case I suggest you consider bypassing the Croft MM phono stage with an Icon Audio PS1 or PS3, according to your budget. This will give you a one-box solution that is new, tried and tested as it were, so you know what you are working with.


After that you should think about upgrading the Dynavector 20XL MC to either an Audio Technica AT33EV or a Benz Micro Wood. I have a suspicion that some muddle may be attributable to the stylus of your cartridge and that a factory fresh, quality modern MC design will eliminate this. NK


 

THRILLER KILLER

Regarding my letter in August about ‘MP3 players’ and the iPod, I was a wee bit surprised to see DP’s reaction to my statement that a WAV file in an iPod could give ‘thrilling reproduction’. Especially given that some other high end mags have raved over the possibilities of the iPod.


Let us put this in perspective. There are many friends who listen in passing to horrid MP3 files on their players, and for me, moving between two places, as we are not always living at home for work reasons, it is a wonderful thing to be able to carry a good number of my favourite recordings in an iPod as WAV files. It’s all relative in a way.


Another perspective is simply historic. I began enjoying music at age 11 on a windup gramophone with 78s. Since then I have had a Trio/Pioneer PL12/ Wharfedale system, an all Acoustic Research (with AR7s then the fabulous Gale 401s), then early Linn systems, and now have a Rotel CD and amp and Rega 3 speakers in our working home, and in Switzerland the ‘full’ Brinkmann Bardo turntable, Naim 102/180 amps and CD5X CD deck with Sonus Faber Cremonas with ‘Signal’ cables from America. Some CDs tend to travel between systems, but by and large the travelling music is on an iPod.


So I have listened to music on many different systems in my time, as well as at friends’ houses. I also enjoy listening to music in our 11 year old Passat on what is by now a fairly beaten up system. So to say that I greatly enjoy listening on flights or in bed at night to my iPod and Sennheisers is not really a stretch. In fact I find that different aspects of any recording will be presented by different systems, and, as I will never be able to afford a Continuum Audio Labs turntable or top end equipment in general, there are no ‘absolutes’ involved here. I love going to concerts of the Beirut Philharmonic where we work, though, and live music is another thing again.


My hobby is listening to music, not collecting equipment, however much I enjoy reading about new and old gear in your excellent pages.

Following DP’s remarks I did dig out my old faithful Sony DC6 Walkman, and it’s true that the reproduction from that through the Sennheisers was amazing, especially given that my tapes were recorded many years go from a Linn Sondek Valhalla with Akito and an AT OC9 that was already worn.


But for travelling folks an iPod ‘collection’ of discs is very useful and frankly the sound is not that bad at all. I do agree that the later iPods do not sound as good as my earlier 2006 one, though.


And so to asking for advice. Given my current system, I would like, in the next few years, with retirement, to upgrade to a ‘final’ system, and have been considering the Brinkmann amplifiers also Burmester top line amps and CD decks, as I like the German engineering of the Brinkmann turntable. The only problem with the Burmester CD decks is the top loading, which I think does not have enough space in my racking.


What advice would you give? I think a very ‘truthful’ amp and CD deck are called for as the Cremonas are quite ‘romantic’ in nature and I will never change them, as I love the sound they make. Budget would be generous but not ‘ultra top end’. Any suggestions?

Thanks for your help and an excellent magazine,

Kingsley Flint

Switzerland

 

 

 

sony-wm-d6c-pro-walkman

Sony DC6 Walkman had better sound than an iPod.


 

David just does not like the output stages of the iPod and feels WAV files cannot rescue a poor player, at least fidelity wise. As he is an analogue Walkman fan, as I once was, I understand where he is coming from here. It is a bit like hearing DAB and deciding no, this is just a step too far backwards. As good as the iPod and its associated Apple food chain is, it was never meant to be real hi-fi.


Since you are already using a very good Naim front end to drive your Cremonas, and since you want to keep the latter, there isn’t so much wiggle room here!  An obvious candidate for amplification is one of Musical Fidelity’s AMS Class A series of amplifiers, since they offer the sort of presentation you are after. These will grip and slightly de-romanticise the Cremonas, whilst also delivering intense detailing without an overly bright sheen spoiling things. You do not mention budget but the AMS-50 we choose to use costs £9000.  Alternatively, consider Electrocompaniet’s Nemo power amplifiers that also have the sort of measured air you are after. NK

 

 

BOOM

I'm generally very happy with my present system and – like owning a house – I could never begin to afford it again in one go. The occasional problem is one of the bass sometimes overpowering the music slightly on certain material, mainly rock, particularly with vinyl replay. I do like deep bass when it's there in a recording but not a boom which can mask detail and musicality.


My system is Rega P7 turntable, with Dynavector DV 20X high output version cartridge, Croft Micro 25 Pre and Series 7 power amp and Audionote AN-Es. Room is about 19 by 14 feet max, with the system on a Atacama Rack in a small bay widow and the Audionotes on sand filled dedicated stands firing the length of the room.


The Rega sits on a Mana Acoustics sound frame on top of the rack, as room layout prohibits the use of a wall shelf. I've obviously experimented with speaker positions (as you do) and the compromise between good sound and domestic acceptability of a largish speaker is about 35cm from the wall. I love the Crofts, the best amplification I've owned and the dealer allowed a lengthy home audition and great support before purchase.


Other sources are Quad FM4, Orelle CD 480 and Nakamichi DR8. All sound pretty good, though good vinyl is still best and the Quad needs a quite a bit of gain to go loud.


I'm aware that the room size may not exploit the full potential of the sensitive and musical Audionotes and suspect that the isolation and position of the Rega P7 could be a contributing factor and a suspended deck such as a Gyrodec SE may have the edge in this department?


Is it also acceptable to use foam bungs on occasions in the speaker bass ports for the more bass heavy material? Musical tastes are pop, rock. folk jazz, and classical but techno and thrash metal generally absent.

Your advice and expertise would be greatly valued.

Regards

Mark Armitage

Exeter,

Devon

 

 

 

aw-600-nemo

For a big, grippy sound that suits Sonus Faber Cremonas, audition one of Electrocompaniet’s Nemo amplifiers.


Your room's largest dimension of 19ft puts its main mode at around 30Hz, which is low and not responsible for bass boom. I suspect your AN-Es are a bit lively and this is the source of the boom. I suggest you use foam bungs, as this is what they combat.


Also, place your Rega on a stable platform close to the floor so it cannot rock, as this may well help. If it does, then you know turntable location is also a contributing factor and needs improvement. I hope this helps. NK


 

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