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World mail October 2012 issue
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!
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Your experts are -
Funk FXRII "makes it very clear that most of this warmth is massive colouration from the tonearm" says Dean.
IN A FUNK
We all understand the update process right! First comes a sneaky dissatisfaction with our listening experience, followed by a visit to your trusted retailer to articulate your problem. He then suggests some possible upgrades that you demo and after usually a short while you categorise the update as either; a worthwhile improvement for the price, a worthwhile improvement but not at the price, or not much of an improvement.
This has been my personal experience of upgrading for the last forty years. However, I recently tried out a piece of equipment that refused to be categorised until I resolved a crisis, of its making, in my understanding of what music is, and my relationship to it; let me set the scene.
I have been a music lover, and hence audiophile for over forty years, and in that time I have reluctantly moved to digital media. Having said that, my Chord Electronics Blu and DAC64 combination creates great analogue-like musicality, for digital that is.
On the analogue side I have had many turntable combinations including twenty years with a Linn LP12. A couple of years ago I got rid of my LP12 (don’t ask), but eventually succumbed once again to the desire for that vinyl sound. Fortunately Matt of New Model Audio, who has been helping me through the hi-fi maze for many years, supplied me with a very heavily breathed on Rega RP3...and a half that he had built.
To my ears I was astounded to find that it sounded far more musical and even handed than my LP12 and Ittok LVII, which is a result for £500! Anyway I settled down for a long and meaningful relationship with my successful upgrade. But – and its the but we all know – after a while I wanted a bit more from the sound; here we go again!
I returned to Matt for a chat and he suggested that I tried the Funk FXRII. Now as a man gets older his wallet tightens (it’s about the only thing that does) and a grand or so for a tonearm! I can’t afford that! But, as usual temptation got the better of me and a few days later Matt turned up to fit the arm for a home demo; sound familiar?
Once fitted Matt put on Suzanne Vega's Luka and wow – I was completely underwhelmed! The music sounded insubstantial and light, where had the weight gone? Yet there was sweetness, rhythm and detail that I had not been conscious of before. Matt added a bit of tracking weight and suggested I just had a listen and wisely he beat a hasty retreat. So, let the crisis commence.
Part of me knew that the sound that was now being channelled from my Goldring G1042 cartridge, through my Korora phono stage, to my Chord SPM 2600 and out of my Tannoy TD8 speakers was in every way far superior to that using my standard RB301. But the sound was more like my Blu and DAC64; that is, more digital! And yet there was a massive increase in the sweetness, roundness and wholeness that I associate with vinyl.
This did not compute and I found this situation all very unsettling. Part of my mind was in a confused state as opposed to fully processing what I was hearing, but I was conscious that what I was hearing was somehow, ‘right’. I kept playing album after album and although enjoying the experience I was not emotionally fully engaged with the music. I also found that my emotional response varied much more with each album than it had ever done before. It seemed that my mind needed more data to work a few things out. Then after acquiring enough input I had my epiphany! I realized that for the last forty years my perception of the characteristic vinyl sound has been misguided.
Vinyl has always had a warmth to it that I have grown to find inviting and appealing, and for me it enhanced the nostalgia that listening to vinyl can elicit; this was an acceptable part of my musical experience.
The problem is that the Funk makes it very clear that most of this warmth is massive colouration from the tonearm that pervades the entire frequency range. With this revelation the warmth transmuted to a stodginess that restricted the music from breathing and expanding fully in space and time. The sound emanating from my system was vastly superior to anything I had ever heard, but was it better music?
The truth is that I was mourning the passing of that comfort blanket of warmth, behind which musical truth lay. Music was being laid bare in a way I had never experienced. There was still intimacy, but only when conveyed by the artist or the production values of the recording. Up to that point I had a preconception of what I expected vinyl to sound like and now I was hearing something that was in part its antithesis.
Some of my albums became a little disappointing, whilst others were a revelation. I also found that if I actively listened to the music then the pros vastly outweighed the cons. But if I strayed into a more background music mode then I wasn’t dragged into the music like the old RB301 days. Quite frankly it was an extraordinary musical and psychological experience.
I have read some critiques of the FXRII that in some ways support my views. Some have said it can lack musicality, or be too clinical and I can empathise with such views. However I think it is doing the genius of the Funk a dis-service to not work fully through my issues. I had to accept that the normal process of upgrading was broken and I had to ask myself some searching questions.
Firstly I had to accept that the astounding precision and delicacy of the Funk was highlighting limitations in my very impressive, but budgetary challenged Firestone Korora and G1042. And given the cost of the Funk I would be unlikely to upgrade either component in the near future. Can I live with this? Oh yes.
For me, one of the aspects of being an audiophile that I have not questioned for a very long time is ‘musical truth’. It is important to me that what I hear is as near to how the artists want to convey their music as is possible. This means that I want to hear what they have to say and not what my system wants me to hear, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Funk lives up to this ideal.
So can I go back to my RB301. Probably, but there would be an ever growing part of me that wanted greater musical truth and just more of everything, and that’s Funk territory. So being a complex adaptive system I have decided to stick with it and adapt to my environment, because I am aware that my appreciation of vinyl replay is changing, for the better. At the end of the day I can’t stop listening to my albums to see what they really sound like and to be honest, in most cases I am still a little confused, but totally awestruck.
The few professional reviews of the Funk that I have seen have poured praise on this tonearm, but these are critiques by audiophiles who have lived with high end vinyl replay for years and have become accustomed to this paradigm shift in what the vinyl sound is. However, for most of us who enjoy our mid-fi turntables this is a complete revelation. So, yes I whole heartedly recommend that you demo the FXRII, but please have a home demo and give it the time it deserves, and be aware that it may just play with your head!
That’s an interesting experience Dean. But you do need to move up from a Goldring 1042 and the Korora. I strongly suggest you peruse our budget Moving Coil cartridge group test in the May 2012 issue, also on our website www.hi-fiworld.co.uk, bearing in mind that a solid low end performance might restore balance. Perhaps the new Audio Technica AT OC9 MLIII would suit. NK
I was a bit disappointed that you chose to review the Usher Dancer Mini-One rather than the Mini-Two in the March 2012 issue of HI-FI World. I agree that there is a treble bias in this speaker, but it is possible that the larger cone area dedicated to the lower frequencies in the Mini-Twos (they have two woofers, in contrast to the one woofer in the Mini-Ones) might have provided a better frequency balance. One finds that the D’Appollito WTW array typically civilizes aggressive tweeters in many speakers and this arrangement in the Mini-Two might be the perfect salve for the rather dominant quality of the Usher Diamond tweeter. Is there a chance of reviewing the Mini-Two in the near future to test this hypothesis?
Usher Mini-Two is the one you should have reviewed, says Ron Levine.
Hi Ron. Thanks for your letter. We sent it to Usher in Taiwan and your prayers have been answered: a pair are being run in right now and are on their way to us soon. Hopefully, they will make the next (November 12) issue.
Like many modern loudspeakers, Ushers use homogenous synthetic materials for better sound quality, so they need a lot of running in – 100-200 hours no less. This eases the brightness. Having said that although their Diamond tweeter measures flat (i.e. peak free) across the audio band, there is some smooth accentuation of treble toward high frequencies in the Mini-One. This can be seen in their frequency response published on the website, www.hi-fiworld.co.uk at Loudspeakers/Reviews/Usher Dancer Mini-One. The steady lift will ensure the Mini-One is ‘obviously detailed’, shall we say. A small lift like this can be ameliorated by pointing the speakers straight down the room so they are listened to off-axis, and the balance suits well furnished rooms where curtains and carpet etc absorb reflected treble energy. Hence the decryption ‘obviously detailed’ rather than ‘bright’! It depends upon circumstance with a lift as small as this. By current standards the Mini-One is not overly bright; there are plenty of loudspeakers out there with far stronger treble.
As you suggest, two woofers in D’Appollito arrangement may well alter the perceived balance and make the Mini-Two seem more balanced, but of course you pay more too. NK
Help – what do I do, get Icon Audio MB854 Mk IIs or an Audio Research VS115? It doesn’t look like I will be able to get a home demo (or any demo actually) of either of them.
Current system is Benchmark DAC HDR feeding Beard P35 power amp feeding Pro-AC Response 1.5s. Sounds really good but I think that it could be beaten by one of the two power amps. What do you think?
All the best,
That is a really difficult one Paul. Both the VS115 and the MB845 MkII (now MkIIm) monoblocks offer nominally 100 Watts per channel and both have big dynamics, with great bass control. Of the two, the Audio Research has tighter bass, because it has a higher damping factor. However, the MB845 MkIIs go very low, so the distinction between them is a fine one. The VS115 has clear, bright higher frequencies, where the MB845 MkII is a tad softer and easier going. However, the big graphite anodes of the 845 tubes, the massive output transformers and huge power supply of the Icon amp ensure a big, meaty sound that injects real body and timbal richness into music - delicious. Both are tube muscle amps that will shake the room and send transistor amps scurrying for cover. They deliver music with vast scale: you will be impressed. The VS115 has transistors in it and is closest to a tranny amp with cojones, as it were. The MB845 MkII is more expansive in its sound staging and general presentation.
Cost wise there is little in it when it comes to tube replacement / rolling. You are looking at around £100/channel.
Sorry not to be able to make a choice for you. But you know, its like choosing between Catherine Zeta Jones or Rachel Weisz isn’t it? NK
The new Icon Audio MB845 MkIIm amplifier has circuit updates and some
trad. meters - lovely! It uses 845 transmitter triodes to deliver 110 Watts.
Audio Research VS115 uses big KT120 tubes in output pairs to deliver
120 Watts. This is a U.S. muscle amp.