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March 2013 Issue
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FRENCH QUESTION

As I live in the depth of South West France - think mid-Devon circa 1950s – it’s difficult for me to audition hi-fi equipment, so I turn to you for expert advice and unbiased ears!

I’ve recently had my Linn LP12 upgraded by Inspire hi-fi, who also added an Inspire X100 arm and Audio Technica AT33EV cartridge, all influenced by your fine team – and a great improvement I might add. I now almost exclusively listen via the vinyl medium, digital sources definitely taking second place, especially now that so much great music is available on LP. Your excellent vinyl section and of course fascinating letters giving me the most pleasure.

My system, apart from the aforementioned, is all Naim – CD5i player, NAC 62 pre-amp, two Hi-CAP power supplies and a pair of SBLs powered by two NAP 250s bi-amped using a SNAXO 2-4 active crossover. All being supported by a Naim Fraim rack. The speaker leads are also by Naim. You may deduce that I love the Naim sound and although that’s true I came about using their products more by accident than by design. It all began back in ‘93 when I bought the pre and power amps and a power supply from a friend and built up from there.

I do find the sound of my system with certain recordings on the bright side and taking into account that having been a professional drummer for 30+ years I’m pretty used to a bit of attack in the high-mid frequencies! And unlike my wife who’s hearing is in better shape, I don’t feel the need to cover my ears when a particularly ‘forward’ sounding recording is being played, but I do find myself wincing sometimes even at medium volume settings!

I recently bought a copy of the re-issued Sergeant Peppers album and found it almost unlistenable, it was so hard and ‘middly’ sounding – then I noticed it was remastered from a digital source. So much for vinyl being analogue! 

I have to say that due to domestic considerations my listening room set up is not ideal (15ft x 19ft with 91⁄2ft ceiling with the SBLs firing across the width –  the floor is tiled with rugs. But when I had the same system back in England, in a much larger room, the sound parameters were much the same.

I’m looking at two areas of improvement and would be grateful for any suggestions; a valve phono stage, as I understand this will add ‘warmth’ and seems to be an economical way for me to get a valve sound without having to change the power amps. You speak highly of the Icon Audio PS3. 

Or maybe if I went for a valve pre-amp (like the Icon Audio LA4 MkII) in place of the NAC62 it might make me re-evaluate my CD collection and save me some funds towards a pair of speakers – the next area I think could be improved.

I have a nostalgic memory of listening to a large pair of Tannoys at a friends house and falling in love with the sound – smooth, warm with great bass. I’m interested in the DC10s although my room may be too small for them, but I’m looking for that bass extension. I listen mainly to rock and some jazz. My budget would be around £2000 for the phono stage or preamp and £6000 for the speakers. 

Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

Best wishes,

Boris Williams

 

Tannoy DC10T has a lovely smooth sound, deep insight and very powerful

bass – great for a Rock drummer like Boris Williams. 

 

 

 

Hi Boris. I think your suggestions make a lot of sense. The NAC 62 is getting on a bit and has a reputation for sounding rather dry and soulless. Everyone who tries a valve preamp with a Naim power amp remarks about the peculiar symbiosis between them and you will get a fuller sound. This is a great way to build a hybrid amplifier in effect and the Icon Audio LA4 MkII you suggest is a good choice. But you will then need an additional phono stage. 

    If you mostly use vinyl, you could run an Icon Audio PS3 valve phono stage direct into the Naim, because it has plenty of gain and a volume control. Insert a passive preamp like the Creek OBH-22 to play CD as well, or perhaps Icon Audio’s passive preamp. The latter may be most convenient, as it’s a single order and delivery for you, perhaps by a Deux Chevaux fourgonnette, along with the Armagnac! Well, it’s better than having a box thrown at you from the back of a Transit, as happens to us in London. 

    Tannoys sound like the loudspeaker for you. Any self respecting Rock drummer will understand and enjoy a Tannoy. And just as you say they are smooth and have strong bass. The DC10 can be tamed with foam bungs that now come supplied and it may suit your room, which at 19ft is a healthy size. They worked well in our 24ft listening room, but only with foam bungs, unless you like really vast bass. The DC10T had tremendous insight too, likely due to Cryogenic treatment of the crossover. You could perhaps go for a DC8T instead as these nowadays come in well under your budget. Or, just to confuse the issue a little further, you may want to wait and save for a new super-tuned DC10 Tannoy have been working on for some time. It seems this loudspeaker is popular in the Japanese market, and they have demanded even more from it!  The local Deux Chevaux will struggle with a pair of these, however. You’ll need a camion. NK 

 

A STEP UP

While you’ve occasionally highlighted the value of employing a step-up transformer when using a MC cartridge, as far as I’m aware, you’ve only actually reviewed one from Music First Audio in the last few years. This one review was enough to convince me, however, and I ventured to explore the world of step-ups myself albeit at a lower price level.

After considering several from Audio Note, Ortofon and Rothwell, I decided to purchase the Icon Audio MCTX as it’s offered at a good price, is made in England and uses the same transformers as used in their well reviewed PS3 phono stage. 

Well, I must say that the MCTX has been a revelation and has lifted my vinyl set-up significantly over my CD/DAC set-up. As I’m sure a lot of your readers would similarly benefit, can I suggest that you undertake a group test of step-up transformers (maybe including Audio Note’s DIY kit) sometime soon?

Regards.

Rob Murphy

 

The MCTX step-up transformer for moving coil cartridges allows them

to be used with an MM phono stage. It "has been a revelation"

says Rob Murphy.

 

Hi Rob. Tantalisingly, you do not tell us what cartridge you are using, nor before and after conditions. Were you using an MM cartridge and have changed to MC? Or an MC stage and you have switched to using MM with the new transformers? 

   A good transformer, potted in a mu-metal screening case to shield against hum and noise, is almost a magic experience. But then it would be, because this is the only way you can tap into the electrical power produced by an MC cartridge. Input transformers give less noise and a purer sound than an amplification stage, transistor or valve. You make a good point that there are now increasing numbers of such transformers coming to market, allowing Moving Coil cartridges to feed a Moving Magnet phono input. We will being taking a close look soon. NK



 

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