World mail January 2013 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!
Or comment in the Comment section at the bottom of each page.
Your experts are -
BEATLES IN A BOX
I wonder if it would be possible to run a feature on the new Beatles box set vinyl release. Not so much to just state that they exist and how much they cost, but to look into the whole business of the release a little.
For example, this release is in stereo, but many people will chew your leg off and go on about the merits of mono. So, just how should people go about listening to The Beatles. Is it worth holding off for the forthcoming mono recordings due in 2013? Or perhaps just plump for the stereo or perhaps to go for both and get the best (or worst) of both worlds.
The new release also states that it has been seriously prepared by top-class engineers etc but I think I am correct in stating that some of the LPs are re-mixes from 1986 by George Martin. It could be just me, but that seems a little off, bearing in mind what is being claimed in the blurb.
In addition, some of the music will be in mono. Mono, in a stereo release? I guess when the mono release is here, some of that may be in stereo. What does all this actually mean I wonder?
I know what you are thinking, just be quiet and listen to the music, enjoy it and let it be. Well, do you want to know a secret? I can’t because it costs a fair bit of cash and I would like the ins and outs of it from an expert before going ahead.
In addition, what is the ideal way to actually listen to a mono release in the modern world? I know that might sound strange but I have heard differing answers to that question.
I remember going into a record shop over 30 years ago and buying a record, going back home and playing it, not overly concerned about what it was being played on – and not at all worried about the quality of the pressing. Simpler times for myself to be sure and maybe more enjoyable and carefree.
It seems so much more complicated and workman-like now.
Of course I could just be crazy.
The Beatles first LP box set, reviewed by us next month, will be the stereo
albums. But how can stereo be mono, asks Neil Porter – and will the
monos be stereo?
Hi Neil. Yes it is thoroughly confusing – and after discussing this issue at length with Paul Rigby and consulting the oracles, namely the contemporaneous studio records in Mark Lewishon’s ‘The Complete Beatles recording sessions’ – it remains confusing!
The Beatles LPs were issued in both mono and stereo at the time of their release. The monos were considered definitive and had most time spent on them; the stereos were given less attention in mastering apparently. That’s why the monos are felt to be most valuable by collectors.
George Martin did re-mix some songs, a few he was not happy with. You can read more about this in our next issue when we review the first stereo box set.
Also perplexing is the fact that these LPs are cut from a 24/192 digital transcription from the analogue masters made in 2009. A CD box set has already been derived from these digital tapes, but of course the CDs are down sampled to 44.1kHz and resolution reduced to 16bit.
So now we are faced with the question: will the new LPs cut from a 24/96 digital master sound better than the CDs? And are they authentic if they come from a digital master?
The only way to overcome most of these limitations is to release the 24/96 masters as high resolution downloads, or as Blu-rays. Er...can you feel what’s coming? I say more about these LPs in my column this month, on p79.
Tony Bolton will tell you the only way to play a mono LP is with a mono cartridge, because it produces no vertical information (noise and ticks and pops) from the groove. Ortofon make top quality mono moving coils for this purpose. But for most of us a mono switch is good enough.
The mono in the stereo release refers to the Left / Right mono of their first album that was thought to be stereo at the time. At the moment I can’t see how the monos could have stereo in them so you can relax!
Having had my LP12 re-built by Inspire (your review was spot-on!) I am now thinking about dealing with the arm.
At present the deck has a Linn Ekos – probably around 20-plus years old – which, although working well, perhaps can be improved upon. Therefore, should I look to re-wire or replace?
The cartridge is a Lyra Dorian into an ANT Audio Kora 3T LTD phono amp. A Leema Tucana amp and Monitor Audio PL100s complete the vinyl playing. My musical taste is wide-ranging but mainly blues and jazz.
Thanks in anticipation.
A drop-in replacement for the old Linn Ekos arm is the new SE version
with titanium arm tube.
A lot more attention is being paid to structural behaviour of an arm these days, than when the original Ekos was developed and it is off the pace now. However, this arm has a web on the inside face of the headshell that greatly improves rigidity in a critical region, a trick most other manufacturers have missed. You could well try auditioning the later, upgraded Ekos SE with its titanium tube and webbed headshell, as this will be a drop-in replacement. Alternatively, an SME309 would be another good choice, it’s one of our favourites, but the arm board would have to be changed.
Budget moving coil cartridges have also become popular and improved greatly as a result of competition. Consider a Benz Micro Ace or Van den Hul DDT-II. See our moving coil cartridge reviews from past issues on our website at www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/Vinyl LP/Cartridge reviews. NK
Just a quick e-mail to say thank-you very much for my Chord Index prize! It arrived just in time for my birthday and I’m having a great time listening to my much-improved music. The Index is a real step-up in sound quality from my old streamer!
But as usual when you improve one part of your system, you start wanting to “fiddle” with other bits! As it stands I’m using a Monrio NAS-DAC CD player, Lyngdorf SDAi2175 amp, Epos 22i speakers and of course the Index.
So what would be the most effective £1500 upgrade now? I’m not against buying used equipment when necessary. Room size is 5.2m by 4m and the Epos fire across the room. My taste in music runs from jazz, pop, classic, folk... just about anything really! I like a neutral sound with good stage width and imaging (not looking for too much then!).
Thanks again for the Index! Keep up the good work!
One happy Edinburger!
That’s a tightly integrated system you have Dave and not too easy to upgrade without comprehensive replacement. To make a big difference for £1500 I would be tempted to change the loudspeakers and I suspect you’d like the Epos Elan 35 loudspeakers (October 12 issue) or, for a brighter sound, the KEF R500s reviewed in this issue. They will liven up the Lyngdorf, which with its hard cut off at 20kHz is a little short of sparkle. NK
A pair of lovely KEF R500 loudspeakers will add some sparkle to Dave Herd's system.
We were delighted to find our recent letter featured in Hi-Fi World. Thank you for your advice re: speaker matching for the Sugden A21 SE. While we love our music we are definitely not au fait with hi-fi technicalities and so rely on your guidance. We shall wait for your issue with the KEFs before continuing to audition with your suggestions. We couldn’t wait to start and have just tried the Sugden and also Musical Fidelity’s AMS 35i with the Martin Logan Electromotions from a Project/Ortofon Blue combo - what a difference from our old system!
We love the electrostatic sound which also gives us the option of later adding a top valve amp for our favourite piano and chamber albums. The trick is to find a dealer where we can hear both speaker types.
Thank-you again for your help and we must say that the generous space you give to reader questions sets Hi-Fi World well apart from the competition. (And of course valves are the best. Boy, I bet those new Icon MB845s sound fantastic. If only we were going to where they’d fit.) All the best.
Martin Logan Electromotion loudspeakers attract a lot of attention: here's a
high-end loudspeaker at an affordable price. David Briggs can get a demo at
their importers, Absolute Sounds, based in Wimbledon, Southwest London.
We are getting a lot of mail about the Martin Logan Electromotions, likely because of their relatively low price of £2500. They measured well and sounded great we found in our review that appeared in the October 2011 issue and is now on our website at www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/Loudspeakers/Reviews.
In future if you want to go to valves you will a punchy, dynamic sound from an Audio Research VS55i with its 6550 tetrodes, or an even and smooth result from Quad II-forty power amps with their KT88s. Absolute Sounds, the importers of Martin Logan can surely give you the demo you are looking for. NK
I’m looking to replace my ageing Epos ES14 speakers with a pair of floorstanding speakers to partner a pair of Audion Sterling KT88 push-pull monoblocs (40W) and would like some advice on a shortlist of speakers to start auditioning. I mainly listen to rock music at reasonable levels through either my Roksan Xerxes/SME V/Ortofon Kontrapunkt B/Densen DP Drive analog front end or via the computer (Mediamonkey) and a Lynx Two soundcard – all of which is passed through an Music First Audio Classic pre-amp.
My listening room is 6.5m x 4.5m and is acoustically treated as I also use it for recording. I really value timing, especially the crisp stopping and starting of bass notes, and I’m looking to spend in the £1500 - £2000 region. I’m also very happy to go second-hand to get better value for money, although getting heavy items sent over to France where I live can be problematic at times.
I’ll also consider auditioning the local speakers such as Focal and Cabasse, but unfortunately know very little about them and their suitability for use with valve amplifiers.
I’ve been looking at Revolver, ATC, Neat, PMC, B&W, Tannoy, Usher, Living Voice etc., but now need a little guidance in narrowing my search to a few highly compatible models within my price range that I can listen to.
John, you are looking at a wide range of speakers there – all with different strengths and weaknesses.But if you like the sound of your present Epos ES14s and are keen on floorstanders I’d recommend a listen to the new Epos Elan range. The Elan 35s are very special at the price and well within your budget at £1200. They also boast a 92dB sensitivity which makes them ideal for valve amplifiers. They are slightly warmer than previous Epos models but have retained the immediacy and musical communication the brand is famous for. JM
When in France do as the French do – buy Triangle loudspeakers.
Here's the new Quartet, which would be a good choice for John
McCulloch living in Paris.
In France you ought to listen to loudspeakers from Triangle. They are very well engineered and designed to be accurate, so you get the sort of honest, smooth result once traditional in the UK. The Quartet is punchy and dynamic, and the Antal great value too. I have used both with valve amplifiers and they match well, being resistive, sensitive and clear up top. As you can likely get a demo in Paris and prices will be good, I suggest you start here. See the Antal EX review on our website at www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/Loudspeakers/Reviews. NK
There are a few things in your November 2012 issue which have attracted my attention.
Once again you have reviewed a product without using classical music. I refer to the Wharfedale Denton speakers reviewed by Jon Myles. He mentions various music but none of it is classical, which to us serious music fans is a serious flaw in any speaker review! Whilst using The Clash might appeal to those of a certain taste it does little to tell us what the Dentons might sound like with properly recorded orchestral/opera music. Why do you as one of the better publications do this? Doesn’t Mr Myles have any interest in naturally produced sound? Surely he could have tried some serious music in conjunction with another reviewer in that case?
You also review a World Designs amplifier, the KT88 model. This is done by Tony Bolton, who does at least use a few classical tracks. But there are a few issues regarding kits. If one builds such a kit and it fails to operate what help does one get? Is the item guaranteed or does one have to seek help on the company’s forum?
There are dangerous voltages in valve amps – upwards of 400 Volts – so what help is available if the amp doesn’t work correctly upon completion? Many companies offer two year guarantees these days so what about World Designs?
I also refer to the letter from Stephen Condliffe and the implications to those who meddle with ancient designs. I just cannot understand the fascination with such designs. The Leak may have a sweet sound quality but surely it has been bettered by many modern designs? So why all the fuss with preserving what is in effect junk? I daresay that doing so does keep a sector of the hi-fi trade in business and some hi-fi followers regard ancient hi-fi in the same way they do vintage cars. But Neville Roberts in his reply sent a shiver up my back when he stated that he didn’t want to bring the Leak up to CE standards!
I just wonder how many ancient pieces of dangerous junk - sorry, hi-fi - are connected up to systems throughout the country? I can well recall a friend of mine who owned a full Leak system many years ago. It was a sweet-sounding outfit but I have heard better in the passing years and my friend eventually sold the Leak and got himself a Japanese transistor system which didn’t need valve changes and which actually sounded better. Heresy some might say! No. The aim of hi-fi is musical contentment, surely?
John Myles did not listen to serious music when reviewing the Wharfedale
Denton 80th Anniversary Edition, says Cliff Milward.
It’s a fair point Cliff. I did actually listen to the Wharfedale Dentons with a variety of classical, folk, rock, jazz, ambient, hip-hop, industrial, punk etc, etc. Unfortunately, there is not room in one article to mention them all and I chose to try to convey the overall sound of the speakers. Suffice to say they sounded as good with an acoustic recording of Nick Cave as they did with Messaien, Stravinsky and even The Clash - as their award in this issue testifies. As to what constitutes ‘serious’ music.....well, I’ll go with Anton Berg’s quote to Gershwin: “Mr Gershwin, music is music.”Jon Myles
A piece of junk? A Brough Superior in bad condition is worth £50,000.
For more pictures of 'junk' go to
http://brough-superior.com, who supplied this picture.
“Junk”? Hmmm. That’s a particular view Cliff. I was watching an auction of old motorbikes on TV recently where a Brough Superior untouched since 1930 and in bad condition went under the hammer and sold for around £50,000. It looked like junk, but that wasn’t how it was valued. Garrard 401s can reach £1800; our Advertising Manager has just sold one she found in a junk shop for £900 – to Japan.
This Garrard 401 turntable sold for £900 to a Japanese collector.
A lot of people out there seem to value “junk” so I think it’s best to take a view on such matters. At a hard nosed commercial level such items are seen as an investment, and in this light you can buy a Leak system, enjoy it, then sell it later for a profit if you so wish. In effect, you will have earned money whilst listening to music, which sounds good to me. Buy a massed produced, technologically superior set up and you experience the opposite effect. The choice is yours.
It’s probably just as well most people do the latter, or the wheels of industry would fall off. Not good for jobs. But I think the logic of enjoying junk needs consideration. It brings contentment in many ways. NK
I feel I must write to you again to express my thanks to you. I took your advice from my letter earlier this year regarding adding a Beogram turntable to my hi-fi setup. I am now the proud owner of a 5005 model and my most recent addition to the growing set-up is a wonderful Technics SL-5 which has just been fitted with a Shure M92E cartridge. This combination has left me stunned by the breathtaking sound which comes from those shiny black discs.
I have only recently returned to vinyl after many years with CD. I must stress I am not about to disown CD. It still has a place in the great scheme of things to me. But the amazing vibrancy and sense of life that is found in vinyl is a real breath of fresh air.
I also took your advice on upgrading my speakers. I went for the Usher S520 which have completely transformed what my expectations of what a standmounter can do. How they crammed such a spacious sound into these little boxes is beyond me.
I am considering a new DAC to boost my Exposure 2010s CD player. What can you suggest? I rather like the look and reviews of the Metrum Octave and Rega.
Please keep up the good work with your excellent and enjoyable magazine.
The NAD M51 DAC has a wide array of inputs including HDMI, a high
resolution digital volume control and upsampling. It would suit Austin
Rushworth, thinks Jon Myles.
The Exposure 2010 is a fine CD player as its stands but if you’re looking to boost its performance and offer more flexibility for other sources the Rega would be a good choice. It has a natural, unforced and dynamic sound with bags of detail. You don’t mention a price range – but if you have the funds then for an even better performance and class-leading range of options take a look at our 2012 Award-winning NAD M51 Direct DAC featured on page 35. JM
WHERE IS NXT?
Here’s a question for you, well probably Noel actually: why has NXT technology failed to make any serious impression on speaker design outside the surround-sound /PC world? My reason for asking this is I have a set of Arcaydis Icarus speakers that use two relatively large, A4-sized NXT panels paired with a separate 10” bass drive unit which I’m extremely happy with.
My reason for buying them, other than my inability to refuse an ex-demo bargain, was the theory that the large speaker area would render them less fickle to placement and provide a wider sweet spot.
I’m currently forced to listen in a room less than ideal for musical reproduction. I’ve always found them very open and detailed and a significant improvement over my previous Tannoy 638s, which I was already fairly happy with.
However, over the last couple of years I’ve been upgrading the rest of my system to improve the source and now it’s time to consider the amplification.
The problem I have, and what triggered the initial question as to why the technology isn’t popular, is that I can find absolutely no information on the speakers.
Arcaydis have not responded to my request for such; there are no hits on the internet - surely a first! On top of that I can find no similar speakers which have been reviewed to provide any guidance on what sort of amplification they are best suited to.
My front end consists of a Garrard 401, recently serviced and brought back to splendid health by Dominic at Northwest Audio, and mounted on a twin-layer Slatedeck plinth. Tonearm is an Origin Live Encounter Mk3 fitted with an Ortofon Vivo Blue. The phono section is a Cyrus Phono X feeding a Cyrus 8 amp. Digital a Cyrus 6 CD player.
My musical taste is mainly classic rock as befits my age, but is slowly becoming more varied - mainly as each upgrade allows me to hear the merits of other musical styles.
I really want something that is going to provide a tight bass line as I hate loose and flabby bass - but also something that will provide a more detailed picture than the Cyrus set-up I currently have. It’s certainly not bad but I think the analogue front end perhaps now deserves something more refined. I’ve been considering a move to valves but really don’t know if that’s the right way to go with this type of speaker. Your thoughts would be appreciated.
Where did NXT go, asks Martin Taylor? Here is one of the few high
end NXT loudspeakers ever produced, the Cyrus Ikon X4.
I could bore you for Britain on the the apparent failure of NXT to take over the world – but I won’t!
Firstly, let me say I love NXT and the sound it produces by optimally exciting a panel to stimulate its modes in an ordered fashion. Behind it lies Finite Element Analysis as a means of understanding what the panel is doing, so it is absolutely rooted in science and the technology behind it is being spun out into BMR drive units.
You may be amused to know DERA, Britain’s Defence Research Agency, contacted me at Hi-Fi World a long time ago, asking which loudspeaker manufacturer would best understand and be able to develop a panel-driving technology they used in helicopters to reduce noise. I told them straight away and unequivocally Farad Azima of Mission loudspeakers would understand it, be interested in it and would likely be able (financially) to develop it. And so it came to pass. NXT was started with investment from the City. The idea was to replace cone loudspeakers around the world, an awesome prospect.
It didn’t work out. Exciters would fall off the panels and the low frequency limit was linked to size as always. Full range NXT panels had to be as large as any panel radiator to cover bass frequencies, or have a bass unit in a box, like your Icarus loudspeakers. This produces a change of character as the NXT dipole, in all its uncoloured glory, crosses over to a cone slogging away in a box. It gave NXT feet of clay in the showcase of high-end audio, and few hi-fi manufacturers either understood how to build an NXT panel properly or negate the problems of making a box match it.
But NXT panels sound pure and peculiarly neutral in character, more so than electrostatics. They are lovely to hear and a pair of huge Podium Sound pseudo-NXT (the exciter was in the wrong place) loudspeakers I heard at a Taiwan audio show stay in my mind as some of the most extraordinary loudspeakers I have ever heard. They had vast imaging across a huge sound stage, in width and height, and a sound so pure it was like the air of Spring.
The Podium Sound loudspeaker was an NXT panel that wasn't NXT because it
didn't meet their patent specification (it was sub-optimal in this sense). But Podiums still sounded lovely.
I doubt you’ll find an amplifier convincingly better than the Cyrus at driving your loudspeakers, as they are not an especially difficult load and have no special requirements. If you want really tight bass, stay with transistors; at most consider a hybrid set-up of Naim power amplifier fed from a valve preamplifier, say Croft or Icon Audio. If you can stretch to it, a Music First Audio Classic transformer preamplifier will give you a sound pure, detailed and tight at low frequencies and would definitely suit I feel.
Your Ortofon Vivo Blue pickup cartridge is the item to upgrade first though; budget moving coils are rarely worth their low cost. For fast, tight bass go for an Audio Technica AT-OC9 MLIII moving coil cartridge, or an Ortofon Cadenza Blue or Bronze; I use a Cadenza Bronze.
Since I last wrote I have replaced the Monarchy Class A monoblocs with a behemoth American Quicksilver MS190 – four EL34s a side, 95 Watts per channel, 90lbs out of the box...only 75 MS190s were made. It was 1982 and Mike Saunders first foray as a designer/builder. The MS190 changed to toroidal transformers after 75 units and the name changed to the MX 190.
I bought serial number 0037 in 1985, used and ran it for years but finally a botched repair left it languishing in the garage for the last dozen years or so. But a great repair service from a local outfit prompted me to take my rusting monster for a refit.
They replaced the two large capacitors plus numerous smaller components and the output tubes. So, a restoration and an enhancement and it sounds quite amazing. Make that stupidly good.
My set-up remains the same: stacked Yamaha NS1KMs plus Townshend Maximum SuperTweeters.
I figured when wired up with all three speakers driven the amplifier was looking at a load just above 1ohm.
This time I’m driving the Maxs separately so the 4ohm taps on the MS190s are seeing around 4ohm nominally and probably closer to 2ohm in reality.
Now, here’s the question: what are the symptoms of going below the minimums recommended? Shorter tube life? Or something more exciting?
As a PS: The Monarchy gave no signs of distress.
And a PPS: I have a set of Speltz Autoformers which allow you to vary the speaker impedance as seen by the amp by multiples of 2, 3,or 4. So I plan to give those a trial. They certainly work but they’re awkward and with a higher impedance the available maximum volume is reduced which will be problematic with my passive transformer volume control.
Finally: the MS190 is rusty, the fascia material is peeling off, it’s big and heavy but it’s my sentimental favourite. I don’t want to damage it, shorten its working life or blow it up.
Any information would be much appreciated.
An Audio Technica AT-OC9 MLIII moving coil cartridge gives a
punchy sound with great bass.
If you have an Ohmeter, measure d.c. resistance of your ‘speaker array. This will be the minimum a.c. impedance the amplifier sees and gives a rough idea of what the amplifier will be ‘seeing’ as a worst case. With valve amps the a.c. impedance is reflected back into the primary, so a low impedance will be seen as a lowered anode load in effect. More current will swing through the output stage and distortion rises. However, this is about all. Unlike a transistor amplifier that will collapse if too much current is drawn by a low load (in real life fast protection circuits are fitted to prevent this), a valve amp will shrug off what it cannot do. Valve life is affected by the H.T. voltage and quiescent current through the output stage, not by loudspeaker load.
I doubt the loudspeakers are worrying the valve amp as much as you fear and doubt whether putting in another set of (auto)transformers will be of much help. If, say, the Yamahas are 1 Ohm then a 4:1 setting will take them up to 4 Ohms as the amplifier sees it, at least in nominal terms.
I suggest you change your loudspeakers if all this worries you, or stop worrying!
Do make sure you have good, modern HT fuses of the right value fitted as this will save the output transformers from destruction should an EL34 collapse.
Also, keep the mains fuse value as low as possible; try 5A and see if it holds up.
When changing HT fuses use a meter to make sure the HT line is at 0V. If the power supply capacitors have bleed resistors fitted, as they should for safety, then you will be OK. If there are none then you could get a horrible electric shock hours after the amp has been switched off, so beware.
As an inveterate fiddler I hope you at least own and know how to use a Voltmeter to check such things; they are cheap these days. Get one with a 1kV range. Also wear rubber soled shoes and don’t hold onto, or let your body contact anything. We used to supply electrical safety gloves with World Audio Design kits and you may like to get a pair. Try RS Components or Farnell, online.
It's a pity you did not send us a picture. NK
I would like to thank Paul Rigby for his article on Jackie Leven in the December edition. Until 2009, my only knowledge of Jackie’s existence was due to tracks used by Noel Keywood in his equipment reviews. When Jackie’s name appeared on the gig list at my local venue, I had to go. What a man and what a talent. I was hooked and now own several of his CDs, some earlier Doll By Doll vinyl and the excellent 2004 DVD of his performance at Rockpalast.
For anyone unfamiliar with his work, I would recommend ‘Fairy Tales for Hard Men’ – the one that Noel uses as a review tool – as a good place to start and there are also plenty of videos of him on YouTube. It is sad that he was not given wider exposure by the media. Later With Jools Holland would have been a good vehicle. Considering the life that he led (there are many references to this in his songs and in his introductions) I hope that someone writes his biography.
Now to hi-fi matters. As primarily a vinyl enthusiast who has an ever-expanding CD collection, I was looking to upgrade my CD player – currently a Marantz CD6000KI that has served me well for many years. However, the increasing number of high-quality digital downloads available has led me to think that adding a DAC may be a better solution. For computer audio the Epiphany DAC looks interesting but that does not address the CD problem.
The Beresford Caiman looks interesting but this has been superceeded by the Bushmaster, which does not have a USB input.
Can you suggest a reasonably priced DAC that will upgrade my CD player and also allow me to play high-quality 24-bit digital downloads via the USB sockets on my laptop.
Jackie Leven's 'Fairy Tales for Hard Men' is a good place to start
a collection, says Paul Topping.
Jackie Leven was indeed an underrated artist during his tragically short lifetime. Luckily, he seems to be getting more recognition these days. If any more evidence was needed he gets a number of name checks in Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus novel ‘Standing In Another Man’s Grave’! JM
Jackie was recognised as ‘artist of the year’ by Q magazine some time ago, I recall, but otherwise he appears little known. He was his own genre it seems; I can think of few artists who sang on the subjects he covered, poverty and alienation always hovering in the background. His Scots upbringing I guess informed this, although 'Call Mother A Lonely Field', a beautiful and sad song, refers to “young Irish men in English Towns" alluding to London. At least, I think it does, as Jackie lived in Maida Vale, North London, close to Kilburn, once resolutely Irish. He liked his LPs and I believe Ian Rankin was a friend.
On the matter of a DAC with all that you need, your prayers are answered by the new Furutech Esprit reviewed on p51 of this issue.