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March 2010 issue
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World mail     March 2010 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 -
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.



CHI-FI
I write with regard to the letter from Niels Ostergaard and the responses from NK and DP. While I do agree in principle with NK’s remarks about consumer laws, it should be noted that many of the Chinese brands do have E.U. distributors and I would mention A.A.A.V.T (www.aaavt.it) in Italy who distribute Yaqin, Yarland and Aria, among others.

Regarding DP’s remarks, while bowing to his obvious greater experience, his comments are highly generalised and certainly shouldn’t be taken to apply to all such brands. Many Chinese manufacturers produce products re-badged as much better known brands, e.g. Aria as Sophia Electric (Baby) and Korsun as Red Rose (Rosette). I myself have a Korsun U2, which I imported directly from Hong Kong and which I have found excellent quality, both for sound and build.

korsun-u2

Korsun T2 amplifier, imported from Hong Kong by Stephen Murray. It has now become the Dussun T2.

I would point Niels (and yourselves) to some of the online sites, such as TNT Audio and 6 Moons which often cover Chinese brands and highlight in particular the good reviews that Yarland have been getting recently. I, like Niels, would welcome more coverage of such equipment and would be happy to accept the constraint that it had to be available from an E.U. source.

Finally, DP’s comment about the ‘noise’ that Niels is getting from his equipment cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. While, I hope, it may have been somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ (?), I don’t think it is acceptable to criticise another enthusiast's choices or taste in this way, at least not without personal experience of the actual set-up. Even then, sound quality is highly subjective and ‘one mans meat . ..'  etc.
regards,
Stephen Murphy.

Hi Stephen - regularly visiting the People's Republic as I do (for reasons of friends and family), I get plenty of chance to see Chinese hi-fi 'at home', and talk to Chinese hi-fi buffs and indeed Chinese hi-fi salesmen when I visit the fast growing network of hi-fi dealerships there. I'm afraid their indigenous product is not universally well regarded. There are, as you point out, some very good Chinese brands, but most - as a number of Chinese dealers have told me (even those who sell it!) are poor. They're highly derivative of Western designs, and often they manage to copy the 'headline features' like chunky casework and huge toroidal power transformers, but miss the subtle things which are just as important to sound such as high quality passive components. Indeed, at the last Whittlebury Show Ken Ishiwata and I were comparing notes; he told me that they simply lack designers who can 'finesse' their products, fine-tune what's basically a box of decent bits into something half-decent. He believes they will moved forward, and in some cases have already done so, but it's (if you pardon the phrase) rather like 'the Wild West' at the moment. As such, buying blind off eBay (or wherever) is risky. It's great if you're tweaky and you want a project, but don't expect hi-fi heaven at a knock down price.
DP


TASMANIAN DEVIL
David Price drools over the AuraNote box in the Systems Shoot-out in the latest (well down here in Tassie anyway) issue. He cites all sorts of awards for the designer. But look at the thing ... a bloody box with a few shiny knobs on it. It looks like my old Alba record player from the 60s! I’ve seen nice design from Chord and Lecson and love the beauty of old SMEs and Stax arms. But function usually triumphs over form in our hobby. To think that box is wonderful.....come on. It was bad enough in the shoot-out but to follow up with your column....aarrghhh!

aura-note-premier

Auranote "looks like my old Alba record player from the 60s!" says Eric. "No, it's retro chic" says David, "like Sophia Loren"!

I admire your ears, Dave. They’ve brought me the truth on loads of gear over the years. But your eyes, mate, your poor eyes!
Eric McCormick
Hobart,
Tasmania


Hi Eric - well, as they say, each unto their own! This AuraNote is - to my peepers - a deliciously retro (think Sophia Loren, Beatles' 'White Album', Maserati Ghibli, James Bond!) take on a 'music box' and, importantly, beautifully built. It's certainly something a bit out of the ordinary, and along with my love of its style and build, I was delighted to hear that April Music had engineered it well on the inside too. I can see now that it's obviously not de rigueur in Tasmania, though! DP

BEATLES
I read the article on the Beatles re-issues with interest, and would like to produce a counter argument to some of the comments and views. I am a long term Beatles fan, and would generally applaud any initiative that improved the accessibility and quality of their back catalogue. For a wedding present I received the entire set of Beatles CDs, 15 years ago. Apart from the fact that the packaging was incredibly poor (over-enlarged copies of cover shots, no notes whatsoever - the exception being Sgt Peppers), I thought the sound was pretty good. Sure, these were 20 year old recordings re-issued at full price, but then EMI aren't a charity and have to please their shareholders.

rubbersoul

Mentioning dodgy quality of the early Beatles stereo mixes, especially Rubber Soul, misses the point, says Peter Norrie.

I do, however, feel that they are really going too far with their recent releases in trying to fleece the public, by trying to get us all to buy them again! These are just re-issues, the cost behind the new transfers must be minimal. Even if they had to get a couple of engineers to work with them, why the full price? Furthermore, why muck around with the equalisation? I may be cynical but I am sure that this is similar to the old show-room trick of increasing the volume in A/ B comparisons. It sounds louder, it's better – must buy!
Secondly, the mono issues sound interesting, and probably worth a spin, certainly for the Hard Days Night to White Album period. To produce them as a stand alone full price set is really despicable.

By comparison, the really excellent 60s Beach Boys re-issues on Capitol include both the stereo and mono mixes on one disc, and I can see absolutely no reason why EMI didn't do this, except to try and extract more cash from their customers, once again. Perhaps this is one reason why the re-issues haven't really set the charts on fire, and if so it serves them right.

Your review highlights the dodgy quality of the early stereo mixes, especially Rubber Soul. I think this is missing the point - this is what the sixties sounded like. These are period pieces and not modern, multi tracked, digital stereo (which quite often sound ghastly anyway); listen to Run for Your Life on Rubber Soul, Lennon's vocals are blistering, miked up close, hissing out of the right speaker on their own. Staggering stuff!
I believe that recordings come out of copyright after 50 years. If so, I look forward to really creative re-issues from Naxos and Dutton Labs etc, at a decent cost and with full packaging!

Lastly, which ones should we buy? I don't think we should replace any of the original 80s transfers, which to my ears sound clean and dry, a bit BBC 3 in their balance rather than Classic FM, but none the worse for that. Anyway, the gullible amongst us will have to start saving up for the re-mixes, which are undoubtedly being worked on even as we speak, in the depths of Abbey Road. They will be issued at full price, trust me.
Peter Norrie
Leicester


Hi Peter. I totally agree with your assertion that the stereo set is over priced. Both EMI and The Beatles’ estate are maximising income before the copyright on their works expires. Why couldn’t they have created a box set in the vein of Neil Young’s recent ‘Archives’ release, packed with value-for-money rarities and (Blu-Ray) video? Then again, maybe that’s to come...?

On purely sound terms, I would argue that, in fact, the eighties’ releases “mucked around” with the sound to a greater degree. They may be more benign but the new re-issues restore much of the clarity, drive and energy of the original master tapes. The eighties releases masked a lot of original detail. The problem is that, in my view, the stereo  ‘enhancements’ of the new reissues went too far in certain, but by no means all, areas.
As for the mono box set? No matter what the stereo box set provides, the mono box was always intended to be sold as an audiophile edition for purists and should be viewed as a separate entity. Think of it as a specialised Japanese collectable because, essentially, that’s what it is. Every major artist(s) has featured in similar sets sold, in the main, via specialist retailers for an awful lot of cash.

As for my comments on early 60s mixes? This is a perennial audiophile argument. Many original 60s stereo mixes were produced by inexperienced engineers on deficient equipment for playback on anaemic Dansettes and transistor radios. We now have the technology to restore that music to the artists’ original wishes. We should always take advantage of it. If you want a slice of the sixties, buy an original LP second-hand. PR

I have to say it's one disappointment after another with CD re-releases - certainly the ones I'm interested in. I think the record companies simply don't understand that compressing the signal and 'normalising' it right up to 0dB does not constitute an improvement in sound. Very often the packaging is also poor; the paper and/or cardboard might be good quality, shiny and with a nice new smell, but often the repro is bad, almost as if someone had put in on the office scanner! The Beatles boxset is sort of a nice idea (especially issuing the mono mixes) but done rather insensitively, methinks. I am now reading the same about the new Kraftwerk boxset release; 'The Catalogue', which only goes to depress me more... DP

VINYL QUEST
My present listening gear is as follows: Naim CDX CD player, NAC 102 preamp with NAPSC power supply, NAP 180 power amp, B&W DM603 floorstanders. Although a sensible option might have been to upgrade my speakers next, I have decided to hold off on this and spend money in reacquainting myself with vinyl instead. Hopefully I can spend around £1500 on speakers later next year. But for now vinyl seems to have become a necessity. In fact vinyl already is a reality. I have been steadily collecting second hand vinyl and some new release stuff for some months now. I think as much as a genuine interest in the sonic possibilities of a good vinyl system, I have also yearned for some years to reacquaint myself with this aesthetically more pleasing, physically tactile medium; not to mention its connection to my own formative years of buying and loving music. I have spent some £400 and am now eagerly awaiting delivery of a Teddycap power supply which will act as a HI-CAP type power supply to the 102 and as a power supply to a Naim Stageline phono amp.

naim-cdx-final

"How can I get LP to sound better than my Naim CDX?" asks Timothy Cook.

Next up I need to decide on a vinyl spinner/cartridge set up. I have to confess I am at a total loss. Most puzzling I think is even where to begin in terms of allocating money in a balanced way to the constituent parts of the turntable, tone arm and cartridge. And I am really unsure of what budget I should begin serious consideration of potential purchases at. My one over riding requirement is that this set-up should not be significantly inferior to my CDX CD player. And this has to remain true when I upgrade the speakers too. I don't suddenly want new loudspeakers exposing the weakness of my vinyl set up when compared to CD. I have considered partnering a Rega Planar 3, new RB301 arm with power supply, with a really good MM cartridge such as the Dynavector DV10X 52003 or even the Ortofon 2M Black. This would cost in the region of £800-£900.

Although I am aware that some claim that the Planar 3 is capable of shaming CD players far more expensive than itself, would I be right in assuming that the CDX would ultimately prove a substantially better all-round performer than this proposed set-up?

If that is correct how much more money would I seriously need to invest, in order to attain a level of vinyl playback which would not leave me feeling marginally disappointed? How about the Planar 5 with power supply? Is this a considerable improvement over the revamped Planar 3? The planar 5 with one of the aforementioned cartridges would be costing me around £1100-£1200 mark. To be fair I was hoping to keep my spending to under £1500. Is that realistic?

And although I have already allocated money for the Stageline, I cant quite fully decide whether I should go for a MM or MC model? Help, I am confused!

If I need to I am prepared to extend my budget to higher level decks if you feel anything less would sound a poor second to the CDX. More expensive decks which have caught my eye include the Rega Planar 7, the Roksan Radius 5 or the Avid Diva II. Could you advise me on the relative merits of these designs and how they might fit in with my present amplification?
Any advice at all in fact?!!! I am even prepared to look at second hand or ex demo models. I often see Linn Axis turntables without a tonearm selling on e-bay for £200 or so. Would partnering one of these with a decent new tonearm be a viable option?
best wishes
Timothy Cook

Okay, here goes! The best value new turntable on the market is, in my humble opinion, the Technics SL1200. The trouble is that its tonearm isn't great, so you'd need to fit a Rega RB301 (or suchlike) to get it to give of its best. There are a number of specialists who can do this for you, and who advertise in HFW. If you wanted an off the shelf solution, then the Rega P3 is surely the best at the price. It is an inferior turntable to the Technics, with a superior arm, all in a lovely sleek package. Fitted with an Audio Technica AT-0C9 MLII (although the MLIII is out next month), it will give a sweet, smooth, precise and musically engaging sound. In some ways it will be better than your Naim CDX, especially in terms of its musical cohesive and sweet upper midband and treble. The Technics/RB301 combo is an altogether more bombastic combo; with a massively powerful and punchy bass, a far more incisive and grippy midband and a cleaner (if not so sweet) treble.

However, if you don't want to go down the Technics route, but do want something better than the Rega, something that's comprehensively better sounding to the Naim CDX CD player, then I refer you to an answer I gave some years ago! Yes, I still think Michell's GyroDec is still the benchmark for 'entry level high end' vinyl playback. In its latest SE form, this deck offers a blissfully expansive and open midband, a deliciously subtle and sweet treble and a bouncy, propulsive bass. The build quality is superlative; some decks five times the price aren't as well finished; and the Gyro is easily upgradeable to near-Orbe spec when you're feeling flush. The Gyro, in my view, is the basic 'start point' for top notch vinyl. These days, some other rivals sound as good, or even better, in some respects, but its combination of qualities is still hard to beat. Were you to go this way, you'd make your CDX's laser last a lot longer! DP

Hi Timothy. I will make a few comments.
Firstly, the new Rega RB301 arm is very, very good – absurdly so at the price. The Planar 3 is a fine starting point, although it must be placed in a firm, vibration free surface as its mass and isolation are minimal.

In view of the quality of your system and your obvious desire to have the best, a Moving Magnet (MM) cartridge will leave you hankering for what you will know to be better – a moving coil or MC cartridge. The question is – which one? An Ortofon Rondo Bronze comes to mind, or possibly an Audio Technica AT OC9-MLII, both costing around £500. I'll note quickly that the OC9 will be upgraded to MLIII status soon.

And finally from me. I do not agree with the view that LP  'shames' digital. The two are different and good digital has its merits. I happen to prefer LP and with a top quality MC cartridge it is a lovely aural experience, natural, enveloping and deeply communicative. Digital is generally (and I am generalising) more pristine, colder and more mechanical, sometimes quite unconvincing. So I would not expect to 'shame' the CDX; it may just be however that you'll find LP a more convincing and fulfilling experience.
NK



 
Comments (3)
Technics mods
3Wednesday, 25 May 2011 11:58
Dave Cawley
Hi Anton

We are SL-1200 modifiers and currently have a half page advert in Hi Fi World. I have tried very many combinations of arms and cartridges, both my own and customers. If the standard arm is new or not abused it can easily take an OC9 cartridge and you could live with that almost happily ever after. In my view, and we are all different, the Rega 300/301 is only marginally better than a perfect stock arm and as such we recommend going a bit further up market to the SME 309, which with an OC9 or AT33EV will give quite remarkable results.

The links Noel gives above are a good starting point.

Regards

Dave Cawley
Technics query
2Tuesday, 24 May 2011 11:55
NK
Hi Anton,
Our usual advice is to go to -
http://www.soundhifi.com/sl1200/SL1200%20PSU.htm
or look up the Timestep forum at -
http://www.time-step.net/
regards, Noel Keywood, publisher
Technics SL1200 arm?
1Tuesday, 24 May 2011 06:23
Anton
In Vinyl Quest DP says "There are a number of specialists who can do this (fit a Rega arm to a 1200) for you, and who advertise in HFW". I cannot see any ads on your site for this. Can you tell me these people?

thanks, Anton

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