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July 2013 issue

 


World mail June 2013 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);  DC Dave Cawley, Sound Hi-Fi, World Design, etc.

 

 

The Tellurium Q Iridium Single-Ended amplifier, reviewed in our June 2012 issue, 

that re-awakened interest in Single-Ended transistor amplifiers. Lots of heat and low power, 

but fabulous sound. 

 

 

CLASS OF ITS OWN 

Your articles about, and reviews of Single Ended (SE) amplifiers, in particular transistor ones, has sparked me into writing this rather late letter. 

In the late nineties I decided to splash out on a new, mainly CD based system. I used Sounds of Music, then in Tunbridge Wells, and the endlessly patient John Jeffries brought various equipment for me to try. The CD player was easy. To my ears a Pink Triangle Numeral wiped the floor with anything at or near the price of about £1100 because of its evenness, detail and lack of that robotic quality that many CD players seemed to have at the time; it seemed to preserve the structure of music in a way that other players didn’t. I should perhaps mention that the comparisons were made through my already ancient early Proac Tablettes; not much to shout about now but, as I discovered, perfectly able to discriminate between different sources and amplification.

  On to amplifiers. The first I tried was a pre/power combination from an Italian firm and I almost, but not quite, said yes to them after about a week’s trial. They were certainly better than anything I had owned before. However, curiosity about what spending more might achieve got the better of me and the next stage was a Canadian push-pull integrated valve amplifier from Sonic Frontiers. On balance this was better; perhaps it was less controlled but it had as much detail and it was more open and fluid; altogether a more beguiling and musical listen. 

But curiosity won out again and John brought, you guessed it, a Single Ended Class A transistor power amp, a Passlabs Aleph 3, together with a suitable modest preamp. I think I listened to it for about a minute before I said that this was the amp I had to have. 

Why? Well, here what you wrote in your inside article in the July issue rang a bell; for me it was the sense of solidity coupled with a richness of timbre that seemed to give instruments their true colour and character. To my mind the sound was simply more real. 

The next difficulty was how to find the right matching preamp, given that I was now committed to spending more on the power amp than the total cost of the original Italian pairing. 

The preamp John had brought was decent enough but it seemed to slow music down. Others from Lumley (John’s own make) and AVI were no better, one of them producing an unacceptably bright sound in the treble, perhaps reflecting your observations about glassy hardness, brightness and lancing treble energy. Eventually I tried another more upmarket preamp from the makers of the preamp John had brought with the Aleph (Talk Electronics); this was much more like it and I was nearly satisfied but asked what else I could try. 

 

 

 

Sugden's A21SE amplifier is a modest and domestically acceptable Single-Ended

transistor amplifer with a superbly clear, solid sound that typifies the breed. 

 

 

John then produced a Balanced Audio Technology VK3i valve preamp which, he said, was the preamp he liked to recommend for the Aleph. Instant Karma - the harshness had gone and everything sounded right. The only trouble was the damage to my pocket – it cost about as much as the Aleph. 

That is the combination I bought. I still have it and over the years it has given me much pleasure, though I had no idea that Single Ended Class A transistor amps were, in your words, "as rare as hen’s teeth".  The Aleph 3 was the smallest power amp made in the Aleph series and is supposed to put out 30 Watts per channel into 8 ohms and 60 into 4 Ohms. I have never seen it suggested that Pass Class A amps don’t meet their claimed power output; there is a power graph for my particular amp in the brochure that came with it showing that it meets the output claimed and though I can’t know, I see no reason to disbelieve it. 

As you say, SE transistor amps run hot and use a fair amount of electricity; the Aleph 3 uses 250 Watts per hour at all times whether it is idling or in use. More powerful Alephs were available and Pass used to make monobloc Class A behemoths putting out 200 watts I think; I would have thought that would get rid of the need for any heating at all in the room they were in. 

I don’t know how the output stage of the Aleph is coupled to the loudspeaker; the brochure is coy about it, seemingly for commercial confidentiality reasons, saying –  “The output stage of the Aleph 3 is a unique blend of traditional design and innovation addressing the unique requirements of loudspeakers. Previous methods of loading the output stage have used networks consisting of resistors, coils, transformers, and active current sources, all of which offer an optimal load line based on a resistive load. The Aleph 3 has a current source topology which optimizes performance for a wide range of impedance and reactance in the load, improving all aspects of performance into real loudspeakers. Pass Labs has a US patent pending on this output stage topology.” I would be exaggerating if I said I was much the wiser. 

The speakers I now have are AVI Pro Nine monitors which are on filled Partington Discovery stands. I recognise that AVI have never been flavour of the month with Hi-Fi World and they no longer make passive speakers, but I have been very pleased with mine. They are neutral, open, detailed and importantly, because of the fairly low output of the Aleph, efficient for stand mount speakers (88 dB plus for one Watt). I don’t by any means agree with all the views that Ashley James forcefully expresses (cables all sound the same, mains cords make no difference, burning in cables achieves nothing) but the speakers are fine and don’t need vast amounts of power as Ashley suggests they do.

  So I have ended up with a system that is unbalanced in the sense that the amplifiers cost more than double the price of the CD player and speakers together; but I think what matters is that it should sound right to me, and it does. 

I will end by saying that recommendations in Hi-Fi World, mostly in ‘Soundbites’, have been responsible for prompting a number of tweaks and upgrades to ancillaries that have considerably improved the performance of the system and enhanced my listening pleasure. They include using the Densen D-Magic (some say this is snake oil but it isn’t), mains cabling from the Missing Link, Ultimate Silver Dream interconnects from Artisan Silver and Blue Horizon Spike Shoes. Every one of these has brought about significant improvement at a reasonable cost, so please accept my heartfelt thanks. 

My final suggestion is that if you haven’t heard an Aleph and get the chance to do so, I think you should! 

With best wishes, 

Richard Baker

 

 

 

 

Hi Richard. I found your experiences fascinating. Single-Ended Class A transistor amps always hit me hard when I hear them – which is rare. They are so conspicuously better than push-pulls. So much effort has gone into push-pulls over the years and we all have grown so accustomed to them; I sometimes wonder whether I am imagining the improvements I hear. Reading your letter and your experiences suggests men-in-white-coats are not needed quite yet! 

The qualities of a good transistor SE also shade solid-state behemoths that still lurk on floors at hi-fi shows, such as the High End Show we have just returned from. Making a transistor amplifier ever larger and more powerful doesn’t give it the elusive qualities of an SE I find, and measurement doesn’t suggest a reason for this. So the wonders of an SE are a mystery; I am glad you hear them too and enjoy them. 

I guess the same comments apply to tune-up items. Many are difficult to explain, but work and make a difference. Your recommendation to hear an Aleph is noted and will get consideration now we have paid the electricity bill for the last SE, although it is out of production. 

And as a last final comment, that bit about the topology of the Aleph output stage is interesting and refers to the use of a active constant current source, an idea worked out some time ago (1970s) and incorporated into the very neat Sugden  A21SE I have used for some time and greatly admired. It runs hot but not very hot, is compact and well worth auditioning also, I suggest to interested readers. NK

 

 

The Pass Labs XS300 Class A power amplifier, successor to the Aleph 3. Is it Single-Ended? Since Pass labs do not specifically identify it as such, then likely not, but it still runs hot, consuming 1000W from the mains. It delivers bigger power, 300Watts, than an SE. Go to https://passlabs.com.

 

LEFT BEHIND 

I’m seeing more and more comments relating to digital audio and feel that I am being left behind. Can I ask some simple questions to clarify my thoughts?

1) Can I just plug a DAC between my PC and amplifier to play internet radio and files?

2) Do I need to download hi-res files before I can play them?

3) What sort of quality will I get from internet radio compared to DAB and to FM, and what about CD through the computer?

4) In very simple terms, is a DAC just a converter, and a streamer is a DAC with a built in hard drive/computer?

5) How do I know what resolution the PC is operating at?

I appreciate that this may make me appear simple minded, but after more than forty years of two channel hi-fi and lots of fun and enjoyment along the way, I don’t want to miss out on access to more music. 

Geoff Egginton

 

 

 

 

The 'hidden' Audio/Midi control panel of a Mac, found in the Utilities folder, carries input and

output resolution and sample rate settings, all data being converted to the values set.

This must be set for hi-res, in this case 24/96 for a Furutech Esprit preamp.

 

 

Hi Geoff. Digital processing is truly a horrible subject and virtually impenetrable too, because what goes on inside chips, inside products, is difficult to fathom. Believe it or not, many manufacturers I speak to do not know what their products do or do not do, in deep detail, so don’t worry about not knowing. Most people don’t know, but they’re not letting on! 

To take your questions in order: 

1) You can plug a DAC between your computer and amplifier. For this you need a DAC with a USB input, and most now have them. If you have a DAC without USB, only S/PDIF, then  you can still use it if your computer has an S/PDIF output (Macs have one hidden in their headphone socket). Or you can use a USB-to-S/PDIF convertor. Don’t forget to tell the computer to feed the DAC, instead of its own internal DAC and speakers, or you will get silence. Go to the Sound control panel (and Audio/Midi under Utilities on a Mac).

2) Yes, you will need to download hi-res files before playing them. It is possible to stream high res. but uncommon because of the high data rate.

3) Internet radio is much like DAB in that it streams compressed audio, usually MP3 at 128kbps – a very low rate that gives poor quality. However, some internet radio, like Radio 3, streams at 356kbps and sounds good, so there is variation. Neither internet radio nor DAB sound as good as VHF/FM, unless the latter is hissy because the aerial is inadequate. CD via the computer, played from its CD drive, remains normal CD quality, ignoring jitter and noise the computer may add. CD played from a rip stored in iTunes, for example, may be compressed, according to the computer’s settings.

 

 

 

 

A must-have for the pocket: Astell&Kern AK120 portable hi-res. player, stores

and plays almost everything – and DSD is coming.

 

 

4) A DAC is a Digital-to-Analogue Convertor, so it is just a convertor, even though you could say it ‘streams’ music in real time. A ‘streamer’ is a box that plays digital music ‘streamed’ from a computer connected through an ethernet cable (network), or wirelessly. This usually means it is sited far from the computer, in another room. Today’s streamers can do much more however, including streaming music from the internet as internet radio, or playing music from a memory stick.

5) Knowing what resolution your computer is providing is challenging, because many programs blithely alter sample rate or compress on the fly, so it depends upon the software you use. However, basically a Mac works up to 24/192 but you must keep an eye on your Audio/Midi control panel or it will sample rate convert, which is something you don’t want. Don’t store music in iTunes either, but as discrete files. PCs work up to 24/192 as well but they need ASIO drivers installed (big subject!). 

Because digital can be up-converted (which does not improve quality) as well as down-converted (which lowers quality) this is all a nightmare. Best to avoid processing by downloading high res files to a computer, that in effect stores them, but do not use the computer to play them. Instead, copy them to a memory stick and play them on a streamer by plugging the stick into a USB port. Or you can copy them to a player like the Astell&Kern AK100/120 and play them through the hi-fi using its analogue output. 

These methods are simple and avoid the horrors of the computer and ethernet, minimising the possibility of word truncation, sample rate conversion, compression, jitter, noise and RF interference. A second best alternative is to use a NAS drive, but even this has drawbacks and introduces other problems. 

With digital just remember to KISS: to Keep It Simple Stupid! NK

 

DAMN ALIENS 

Saw your response to a letter regarding cabling. In it you re-iterated that you have yet to find a solid-state amp that you like for driving electrostatic speakers. Let’s say that you were just given a brand new set of Quad ESL 2912s for your birthday and there were no valve amps available due to a recent alien invasion from Mars. They took away all the valves on earth for their use. Would you let the speakers sit in the corner collecting dust or would you hook them up to some transistor amp? If so, which one and why the choice? Are solid state amps not a better choice, if only in terms of better bass impact than valve amps? 

Regards, 

Joe Wdowiak, 

Canada

 

I would run out and buy a Creek Destiny 2 as a starting point. The reason? Because it has less of the hard sterility and ‘shut your eyes unbelievability’ most solid-state amps suffer. The Destiny 2 sounds big, full bodied, with powerful bass, yet sounds creamy smooth up top. 

Is it the world’s best amplifier and best choice? No. I don’t think it would even suit the Quads which are now soft up top and need a livelier sounding amplifier. So we are back to the old matching problem. Sorry Joe! From the Destiny as a starting point I may well settle upon a brighter balance in due course. 

I am never quite convinced transistor amps do better bass. They do tighter bass, that’s for sure, although Audio Research amps may have you doubting that. What trannys don’t do is bass dynamics; they sound constrained, irrespective of their paper power spec. The Ariand Pro-845SE we reviewed recently had superb bass dynamics, and the Icon Audio MB845 MkIIm also has thunderous power. Being in Canada I guess you may well have an Audio Research dealer near you. They may even have a pair of 750 Monoblocks to listen to, because no alien craft could lift them. See what you think. NK

 

LOAD CHANGES 

My question is regarding MC Cartridge loading: what audible difference will I hear if I adjust the loading on my cartridge, a Benz Micro ACE L? I don't want to alter it on the phono stage if it will damage the cartridge or the phono stage but I was wondering how it would affect the sound?

The ACE sounds very good to me but I can't help but feel it has more to give, barring spending money on a new phono stage, say an Icon Audio valve type. I would like to know if there is any tuning ability by altering the Load Impedance? 

Thank you 

Andrew Burtchaell

 

Hi Andrew. The short answer is that load variation little affects MC cartridges. The reason is that they have very low output impedance and almost nothing affects them, neither capacitance nor resistance changes. In practice you may well detect some small change when varying the load, but it is not great. I have found a low load of 10 Ohms or so does help clean/tighten things up a little, but it also can deaden the sound a bit, especially treble. Technically, it reduces high frequency ringing in the generator.

A low load is currently not a common option in MC phono stages but some manufacturers are offering it. Note that nearly all MC cartridges have a specified load of 100 Ohms; it is an industry standard. 

The Ace is a very good MC. It needs a good arm, like all MCs, and good wiring too. You don’t tell us about this, or your phono stage. Unfortunately, many modern phono preamps use high gain / low noise audio ICs and they do not really do MCs justice I feel. A discrete stage like the Timestep T-01MC or a valve stage is the way to go, or a step-up transformer from Music First Audio. NK

 

ANOTHER STREAM 

I have just read the letter of the month on streaming from Dave Mayer and I have to agree with him that this whole new business of acquiring hi-res music by means other than buying a CD, SACD or film on DVD or Blu-ray is a total nightmare and – if as we read in the hi- fi press – that our hobby of hi-fi is declining, the frightening complexity of new technology is perhaps to blame. 

Back in the 1970s nearly everyone had a hi-fi of some sort but out of my fairly large group of friends and acquaintances, only two have anything remotely resembling a reasonable music playing system now. All their kit has been consigned to the attic, surfacing a couple of times a year for a party – or they get in a DJ, or have disposed of their hi-fi all together. 

Why? It is all too complex except for the hi-fi nutter. Once you just bought a hi-fi, took it home and off you went. Now you have to employ a Shrink to cope with your nervous breakdown just in case you spent a fortune on the wrong cable; I mean one set of interconnects can cost as much or more than the Bose thingey a friend has in his study. 

Every time I read of hi-res downloading/streaming my poor old brain reels. There’s this goes into that, via this, then into that and then into something else, one trendy name or buzzword after another. 

I thought N.K.’s answer to Dave’s request was getting somewhere until I looked up LaCie Whizkey to find that it is unavailable, so what should we buy now? And I am not sure about USB 3.0 or 2.0 or how many GBs I should go for. Mr. Dinosaur doesn’t understand. 

Then I looked up the Cambridge StreamMagic 6. Switched mode power supply and digital volume control, isn’t that a no-no? The reviews have been reasonable. 

I love watching films etc, through my Sky+HD box so I thought Oppo-BDP 103/5 or Electrocompaniet EMP3 and Blu-ray discs. Can I feed my Sky box through the DAC to upgrade the sound? I am sure these machines will upgrade the picture of normal DVDs. I believe both have digital volume controls so would I be better off bypassing that bit if possible and use my Primare Pre 30 pre amp instead? 

Also, rumour has it that being universal players, CD/SACD is compromised so would something like a Marantz SA-11S3 which has been getting nice things said about it be good to bypass that bit? 

Lastly, to get the highest res music and films possible, would I still use a memory stick to download the files from my computer and could they, via downloading/streaming, be replayed via the Oppo/Electro? Mr. Keywood, I have asked a lot, I hope you don’t mind. 

Hartley Pascoe.

 

 

 

When aliens strike and steal the planet's valves for their space craft, Noel will use a

Creek Destiny to drive Quad electrostatics. For a while at least! 

 

Hartley, don’t worry about the Whizkey – buy any old key! It will work and get you going. I found the Whizkey worked well with music, possibly because it has no LED and no current draw, because it uses high speed memory and/or because it has an aluminium case that provides RF screening, likely all three properties acting together. But where I live, in a densely packed part of London, wi-fi transmitters outnumber flies and this may have some bearing on my experiences (the office is even worse). 

If your Sky box has an S/PDIF digital audio output as most do, then you can connect it to an external DAC. 

Get a 16GB memory stick, as it is fast, reasonably priced at around £18 but has enough capacity for 80 hi-res tracks (at 200MB per track). 

Digital volume controls reduce resolution and are best avoided. You can try using the S/PDIF output into an external DAC, setting digital volume to maximum to avoid bit depth truncation, and adjust volume elsewhere. 

 

 

 

"Are solid state amps not a better choice, if only in terms of better bass impact

than valve amps?" asks Joe Wdowiak. Listen to an Audio Research 750 monoblock

power amplifier at your nearest Canadian dealer and tell us what you think Joe.

 

 

 

 

 

Marantz SA-11S3 CD, SACD player and USB memory key player.

 

The ‘rumour’ concerns DSD to PCM conversion that happens on-board with Philips players, for example. What happens within the dedicated signal processing chips used in AV receivers is anyone’s guess and I am told many use internal DSD-to-PCM conversion before routing the signal into a standard DAC, so as to avoid the need for a discrete DSD DAC. It seems a likely cost-saving design strategy, so I tend to believe the rumour. But as DSD gains traction in the marketplace, we can expect to see the emergence of dedicated DSD convertors I believe. DSD has a long way to go and its early beginnings on SACD were very promising. A Marantz SA-11S3 is a good way to go. 

Many products can now stream files from a computer over a home network: check out their specs. I have them passing through my lounge on an almost daily basis but I choose not to do this. I find streaming an inconvenient process, but I know other reviewers/normal people who are proud of their 3000 CDs on a NAS drive, PC or whatever and how operating a brace of remote controls, an iPad, or an iPhone, turns them on. It turns me off, and I do it a different way, storing music on the computer and playing it from memory stick, or now from an Astell&Kern AK120 portable player that has become part of my anatomy! 

Both Rafael Todes and I find the AK100/120 a must-have device, because you carry your entire music collection in your pocket and can play it through the hi-fi or headphones, via digital, analogue or wireless (Bluetooth) connection. NAS drive? Nah – it all goes onto a few MicroSD cards, so you can now get your (musical) life into a matchbox. Who needs whirring black boxes under the stairs – they’re so yesterday! NK

 

IS NOEL RIGHT? 

I felt I had to put finger to iPad after reading the welcome page by Noel Keywood. Normally I tend to agree with most of what Noel writes but I don’t about what he has to say about CD’s supposed demise. I have read in other publications that physical media still equates to about three quarters of all sales, in which case CD is hardly dead, is it? 

From my perspective I can honestly say I still buy loads of CDs every month – and that includes new releases as well as back catalogue titles. HMV probably don’t sell too many copies anymore due to the fact they are so expensive compared to the likes of Amazon. 

Also HMV just don’t stock most of the titles that I’m looking for, so there again Amazon are king, they have almost every release available either from themselves or from sellers. 

I still know lots of people that buy CDs because they prefer a physical copy and better sound quality. There are very few high res downloads available yet, especially available to us in Blighty! There is lots of life left in CD yet. Don’t try killing it off before there is even a viable replacement thank you very much!

Alan Cobb.

 

 

 

"I still know lots of people that buy CDs because they prefer a physical copy and

better sound quality - Amazon are king, they have almost every release available"

says Alan Cobb.

 

 

I understand your feelings Alan. You are of course right to say that CD sales are still high but the medium is in fast decline whilst paid-for downloads are increasing. OK, Amazon has almost every CD title going, but have you ever looked at iTunes? 

Isn’t trundling physical CDs around the world, from factory to Amazon warehouse to your door all a bit archaic? I need not mention the un-green part of it – all that fuel, effort etc. And how long does it take you to look up your intended purchase on Amazon, pay for it and await its arrival? The entire process takes just minutes through iTunes. 

I mention all this to illustrate the point that to justify itself a physical medium has to have some unique advantage, a USP, and the CD has lost this to the download. Not surprising it is in decline. I am not trying to kill it off, but I have to say the CD just never did convince me. From its launch I have criticised its sound quality, being in the fortunate position of being able to measure its problems and defend my position against the zealots who declared it perfect. The days of 16bit religion are over. 

At a ‘Meet the Editors’ gathering at the Whittlebury Show last year many confessed to dropping CD in preference to LP and downloads – and that’s exactly where I find myself. I never threw my LPs away, but I am starting to eye my CDs with hostility! Like others I’ve noticed that ripping them fractionally improves sound quality too, due to re-clocking, so they are due to be ripped in due course. NK

 

HI- RES HEADACHE

I’ve been poking around the internet – as you do – chasing up high resolution downloads, and the means of playing them on my netbook (Win 7 / 1GB RAM).

As this is a basic £200 netbook, there is no digital output – nor a digital input on my Marantz PM4001 amp – so I am resigned to using the audio output socket to feed a spare line–in input. Fine. Not a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with getting hold of a media player that can play 24/96 files either. As a computer technician I probably can even set it all up – eventually!

No, my main problem is the lack of choice of actual high resolution downloads.  With experienced commentators and reviewers (like yourself) stating that the CD is dead and the only non–vinyl alternative is hi–res downloads; where and what can I actually buy?  The range of music is mainly classical or jazz (2L, which I have ordered a BD/SACD sampler from, thanks again to your magazine) – which would keep someone with exceptional hearing, like Platinum Ears Rafael Todes, happy! – but isn’t exactly mainstream these days.  

The range of music that the average 40+ or 50+ enthusiast (someone with the disposable income to buy good hi–fi – not my cheap system), that is, the rock/pop/dance from the 60s to the 90s, may be on disc still but is not released in hi–res digital formats too widely, as far as I can see. OK, so Kate Bush has released her 50 Words For Snow album at 24/96 – and well done for that – but she is in a minority.  

I realise this is a transition period – from physical media to digital download – but the lack of U2, Genesis, Human League and even Kate Bush earlier albums mean we have to stick with crappy MP3 downloads at low quality or (horror, the horror!) the physical disc, which some commentators suggest should be almost abandoned as it’s irrelevant to the New World Order.

I like SACD, and wish it had replaced CD as the hi–res carrier of choice. I also like surround sound, which can really open up a piece, be it the 1812 or Shine On You Crazy Diamond – and feel the lack of ‘classic’ (read well-known and popular) music on modern media available (so far), plus the fragmenting of the market as to how it is purchased by the consumer – be it on the discs in the Pink Floyd Immersion sets, or FLAC, or lossless–this or that MasterHD thingy on Blu–ray – means that hi–fi may well become even more esoteric and (dare I say it) even more irrelevant to the Average Consumer, who just wants to hear familiar music, not to comment on what format and resolution the (often very obscure) demo tracks were recorded at.  

I suggest that vinyl or CD or even 320kbps MP3 are way good enough for this, especially as background music or on the go. 

I’d love a quadraphonic set–up with four Martin Logan speakers and the valve amps to drive them (who wouldn’t?), but what source?  Blu–ray?  A high–end DAC?  How do I get that stuff over to the (say) Icon amps?  Digital feeds?  OK, what format and what kind of cables?  

Now it’s all getting too complicated for me; I’d just go for a reasonable 5.1 amp and universal player (Marantz again) – with Monitor Audio speakers (a favourite brand of mine going back all the way to the 70s) – and once set up I’d be happy, and I could play my PS3 through it as well!

Don’t get me wrong.  Progress yes, but there has to be a better way than this. The weeding out of formats – HD-DVD vs Blu-ray (same quality, just branding), or Elcaset vs MiniDisc vs DCC vs DAT (in the end, no real winners there) – by the consumer-driven market takes far too long, and ends up alienating the confused consumer who just says ‘I can’t be bothered’ and goes back to their CDs or MP3s or records.  And don’t get me started on the quality (or otherwise) of re-masters...!

Yours sincerely

John Malcolm

 

 

 

"My main problem is the lack of choice of actual high resolution downloads"

says John Malcolm. HD Tracks has a rapidly expanding catalogue of high

resolution transfers, as well as new recordings. 

 

 

 

 

Go to www.dsd-guide.com for free DSD downloads and plenty of DSD music and technology info.

 

 

Hi John. There are plenty of hi-res downloads available, if not the catalogue available either on CD or iTunes. Go to www.findhdmusic.com and www.hdtracks.com. Bear in mind you do not have to throw all your CDs away in a format change, as people did when moving from LP to CD. Just rip your CDs to digital flies and add hi-res files to the collection. That way you can morph from CD to hi-res. Once hooked on hi-res you will find there’s no going back. And DSD downloads look set to have a good future too, so your love of DSD will be sated.

It’s a pity Blu-ray ended up purely as a movie medium, promoted heavily by Sony PIctures as a copy-protected vehicle for their output; audio was a secondary consideration. Blu-ray has an ‘audio disc’ specification but it is little used. I suspect licensing fees are responsible for this, pricing the medium beyond the reach of music producers. 

Surround-sound was the new tomorrow just a few years ago. How things have changed! Whilst Blu-ray video racks slowly expand and prices descend, it has hardly supplanted DVD in the public mind, and few appreciate it is also a high quality music carrier. Hardly surprising because the music catalogue on Blu-ray is scrappy and the technology daunting in its complexity. 

It need not have been like this, but the Consumer Electronics industry plays it so, majoring on gimmicky and complicated facilities that are difficult to use and confusing to buyers. Add in the fact that surround-sound is difficult to record for a broad slate of reasons, and unconvincing when only applause or crowd noise comes from the rear loudspeakers, and you end up with dubious benefit from a hideously complicated technology that fills a lounge with loudspeakers and cables. 

In light of this I understand why people choose a worked-out music enjoyment solution of the sort Apple offer. You download quickly from iTunes, within a system that relieves you of money in the most un-intrusive way I have ever come across; iTunes is commercially slick. But from there on the system starts to weaken. You listen to compressed music from a tiny portable player through poor quality earpieces. 

It’s quite obvious people want better, by the rapid increase in the number of full sized over-the-head headphones being worn, especially by young listeners. But Apple have not exploited this. Long ago they should have made Mastering Quality 24/96 files available on iTunes, players able to play them and even matching Apple ‘high resolution headphones’. They haven’t done any of this and the boat is leaving without them. 

Surround-sound downloads exist, but at 24/96 resolution, file size is enormous – and there is no video, so music concerts are out. Having got used to seeing music concerts, including classic rock concerts on Blu-ray, often with great video (you know, those 1960s bouffant hair styles and 70s platform boots) I’m not sure I want to lose the video element. 

You may like to take a close look at Yamaha’s BD-A1020 Blu-ray player I reviewed last month. It almost does it all, but you are locked into the AV receiver route and Icon valve amps are out, unless you buy an AV preamplifier from Onkyo that can feed valve power amps (I have done this and it works!). NK

 

 

 

If you want to play Blu-ray and downloads then Yamaha's BD-A1020 Blu-ray

player is a good choice. 

 

 

 

AUSTRALIAN TITANIUM

I have made up a new arm tube for my Hadcock from titanium tube with carbon fibre lining. It is to go on a Technics SP25 with new plinth that will take two arms up to 14”. I have yet to cut the tube but could try 14” and see what is lost to rigidity. In the past I have had Decca cartridges in the Hadcock but since the 80s have used the Supex family (for their solid sound) in a Rega RB300 on my Thorens TD121 (solid plus). I found my TD121 in a charity shop for $A 30 and as soon as I fitted the Rega I sold my Linn with no regrets. And now to the question. Can you recommend a low output moving coil for the Hadcock? I don’t think I can go back to a London Decca because it never seemed happy on the vertical grooves and / or very dynamic cuts. Price range $500-1000 $Aus. 

Thanks and cheers from Oz, 

Martin Shanahan 

Wollongong 

N.S.W.

 

 

 

To replace a Decca London in Wollongong, Australia, buy a Audio Technica AT OC9 MLIII.

 

 

Hi Martin. The MC cartridge for you is an Audio Technica AT OC9 MLIII, because it has a fast, ballsy sound, it tracks very well and is available in Australia, likely at a good price. See our website for a review. 

I owned a Decca London once and liked its sound but ditched it quickly when I realised it was damaging my stereo LPs. NK

 

SONY AND DSD

I was very interested to read in the April 2013 issue of Hi-Fi World the interview by Jon Myles with Eric Kingdon, on DSD recording. References to this subject are getting more frequent in the hi-fi press, the advent of digital equipment and the possibility to download hi res. and DSD recordings are certainly arousing my interest. 

The computer I use is a Sony Vaio Media Centre desk top, about six years old. Incorporated is Sony’s recording suite ‘SonicStage Mastering Studio’, which has the option of recording in DSD mode. I have tried many times to achieve this but so far without a positive result. The recording is made onto a DVD disc, and although my Cambridge Universal player recognises the disc as being DSD, I get no sound on playback; I have had exactly the same result using the programme offered by Korg for recording DSD; I have made a successful DVD-Audio recording when by-passing the DSD option and they are very good. 

So, although the option is presented to me, it has, up to now, been unusable. I just wonder whether I have missed something, because on the face of it, it would appear to be a straight forward process. Not being able to utilise what I feel is an important piece of technology has been a very frustrating experience, I would dearly love to be able to take full advantage of all that my equipment is capable of. 

Engage anybody outside of the hi-fi world on the subject and you will be met with blank stares, but I am certain that you will know what I am talking about and, what is more, perhaps you can give me an answer to my problem. Living in Hope. Thanks.

Sincerely 

Mike Turner

Woodford

Essex.

 

 

Er, sorry Michael, I cannot – and I know of no one who has tried recording DSD onto DVD. However, if the Cambridge has got so far as to recognise that the disc has DSD on it, it seems to be able to read it, although this may be only the TOC. I wonder whether it is the ‘right sort of DSD’, namely 2.8 and not double rate 5.6. I can only suggest you look for on-line forum experiences or, if any reader can help, please e-mail us at:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . NK

 

ORDINARY PRICES? 

I am an ordinary man! I live in an ordinary town in an ordinary street, I have an ordinary house, wife (sorry darling, extraordinary!) kids and job, for which I am paid a reasonable salary. I love my music (all sorts) and my hi-fi, and I believe that vinyl is still king. 

I have a very modest system, but believe the reproduction is pretty good. And as I have said I live in an ordinary four bedroom detached, and I have (for reference purposes) Project Perspective turntable with Dynavector DV20x cartridge and Graham Slee Gold Era V phono stage. Arcam CD72, Arcam A 65+ (used as pre amp only) two Arcam P85 bi-amped to Wharfedale Evo 40 ‘speakers, Cambridge Audio NP 30 Streamer, Grado 125 cans, fairly good cabling (Atlas etc.) and a mains filter. 

Here’s my issue, I love poring over the pages of hi-fi mags, with Hi-Fi World being a very welcome regular. I am always looking for that next tweak or improvement and I sit and drool over the esoteric systems on display like a besotted pimply teenager with a poster of Megan Fox. The craftsmanship, the sound – and the price! 

Honestly, is somebody having a laff? Does this amp come with free car, house, Cameron Diaz? It would appear that by most hi-fi mags these days, in order to make any meaningful significant and discernible improvement, I will have to sell the car, the house and the children (not such a bad point). Are we suffering from the same condition that seems to effect modern art? That is, if we are told something is art by the ‘experts’ (e.g. pile of bricks, messy bedroom) then it is art!

  I would ask: is any cable worth £6500? Would I hear £100 times the improvement over a £65 cable? Does this £1k turntable sound twelve times worse than this £12k one, or will it just sound different, and I’ve convinced myself it’s an improvement as the cost because the experts define it as such? 

At the lower end an investment of even a couple of hundred quid can reap obvious sonic benefits, but my issue stems around the kind of system I have (very modest), and where having listened to possible upgrades and improvements, I cannot honestly say that I have never had that trouser troubling “wow, that’ll be sure worth the £5k I’ll have to spend, what a difference!” experience. 

For those that read the hi-fi press by the soft comforting glow from the valves in their latest Conrad Johnson amp, as their Acutus spins gracefully and majestically in the background like a small planet, linked to a Pulsare II via Nordost cables, and believe that I am an uneducated, heretical buffoon that has spent “pin money” on a system, I say “cool, but no thanks!”  Instead, I’ll go on 15 years worth of holidays or buy a couple on new Toyota GT86s and continue to love my music being very well reproduced! 

Many thanks 

Steven Sharp

 

 

 

I'll get a couple of Toyota GT86s instead of a top end hi-fi, says Steven Sharp.

 

 

 

 

I would ask: is any cable worth £6500? Would I hear £100 times the

improvement over a £65 cable? says Steven Sharp.

 

You may be unhappy to learn that the high-end of the hi-fi market is doing very well, or so we are told.  I saw a traffic jam of Range Rovers the other day, giving the impression they were common transport, so people have the money it seems, it’s just that not all of us have the money. But the amortised cost of a high-end system over a ten year period would still be less than running Megan Fox methinks! 

Comfort yourself that what you have is great value and gives a disproportionately high standard of sound quality relative to outlay, to put it the other way around. Buy carefully and wisely and you can end up with a great system that doesn’t cost the earth, even whilst all those around us – or so it seems – swish past in mighty vehicles. 

Look out for old model clearances, especially on eBay, keep away from high power unless you play really, really loud, and use at least decent cables (as you do). In your case, Steven, I suggest a better cartridge and the use of high res digital files through your NP30. NK

 

BI-AMPING A WOOFER

I would like some advice from you and your team in order to help me understand and manage the different ways of connecting my amp(s) and loudspeakers, especially as I’d like to use a valve amp. I have had the opportunities to listen to different PP (KT88, KT90, KT120) in my set up but I never heard this magic sound that gives you goose bumps, that is why I'd like to think of SE valve amps. 

The loudspeakers are the Maestros by NotePerfect (http://www.noteperfect.com.au/maestro.htm). The midrange/upper bass drivers and the tweeters are housed in a separate, sealed enclosure inside the main loudspeaker. The crossover for these drivers is a 6dB/octave, phase coherent, hard wired design, with nothing but an inductor in the midrange – no capacitors, no resistors. Because this internal enclosure is small, the midrange/upper bass driver rolls off the bass acoustically, so there are no capacitors or resistors to distort the midrange. The woofer is self-powered by its own subwoofer amp, a classic class AB 200W solid-state amp, which accepts either high level signal (speaker cables from the main amp) or low level signal (interconnects from the preamp). The midrange/upper bass drivers and the tweeters as a whole have a 91dB sensitivity and present an average load of 6 Ohms. The crossover is set at around 110Hz.

They are currently wired to the main amp as is: - bi-wired from the main amp to the external crossover high and medium binding posts - wired using a jumper made of the same cable as the main speaker cable between the medium binding posts and the high level inputs of the woofer amp.

I chose this set up as to have the main amp imprinting its own signature, if it has one (?), to the whole bandwidth including the lows. Often valve amps are known to be less than adequate at low frequencies compared to transistors because of their low output power (especially SE ones) and because of the not-so-good performance of the output transformers at low frequencies. 

In my case I think I have two more options on top of my current set up (set up 1): 

- Set up 2 would be to connect the preamp directly to the low level inputs of the woofer amps. This would avoid the valve amp to feed the woofers although it will still have to deal with the full bandwidth signal coming from the preamp. As the midrange/upper bass driver rolls off the bass acoustically would this set up avoid the possible weaknesses of a valve amp and allows it to work more comfortably not having to deal with woofers at below 110Hz? 

- Set up 3, more complex and more expensive, would be to make use of an active crossover after the preamp at 110Hz. In this case the valve amp wouldn’t have to deal with <110Hz frequencies at all and, as low frequencies pump out a lot of energy, it should have more oomph for dealing with the midrange/upper bass drivers and tweeters. 

I’m currently dealing with two amps: an Altmann BYOB 10W integrated amplifier powered from a 12V battery (http://www.mother-of-tone.com/byob.htm) which I use for critical listening and a Burson Audio 90W PP160 power amplifier (http://www.frontendaudio.com/Burson-Audio-PP-160-p/9999-11292.htm) which I use for mainstream and party listening.

The PP160’s got high level inputs which allows it to be fed by a 2W to 25W valve amp and then be able to amplify its signal to feed average sensitivity speakers. I understand that by doing so the Burson amp will also amplify the noise inherent to the valve designs. Therefore in order to use the Burson amp as a booster for low-power valve amp will require those ones to be particularly quiet. If I had to use a valve amp in order to get this magic sound which tube amps are famous for what would you recommend for my current system?

Jean from South Australia 

 

 

 

 

Maestro loudspeakers by NotePerfect of Australia.

"The midrange/upper bass drivers and the tweeters are

housed in a separate, sealed enclosure inside the main

loudspeaker", Jean says.

 

Hi Jean. Since your “midrange/upper bass drivers and the tweeters as a whole have a 91dB sensitivity and present an average load of 6 Ohms” and since you are able to use a 10 Watt amplifier, I believe you will get enough volume from a power limited Single-Ended amplifier, like an Almarro 318B for example, or the Ariand Pro-845. 

Your current arrangement of using the power amp to drive both midrange/treble, and the powered bass unit is the one usually recommended. Although the power amplifier voltage-amplifies the bass signal in this arrangement, bass current is not drawn from it, due to rising impedance of the high pass filter used to feed the midrange/treble section, and the fact that the woofer power amp draws no current either. The sound of the valve amp is preserved using this connection layout. 

Connecting the preamp direct to the low level inputs of the woofer will change bass quality and seasoned subwoofer experts say this is not good, but I would still try it, providing your valve amplifier has a gain control for level matching. 

You do not need arrangement 3) I believe, since although the valve amp ‘sees’ low frequencies with the other arrangements, it does not drive bass current and that is what matters. I hope this helps. NK

 

 

 

 

 

The Ariand Pro-845 Single-Ended valve amplifier would suit Jean from

South Australia. Produced in China, it is likely available in Oz too.

 

 

POWERED UP

You kindly published my letter and photograph of my battery power supply in the March 2012 edition of Hi-Fi World. Here is something by way of an up date. 

When I wrote last, the battery power supply I built powered a Perpetual Technologies P-1A resolution enhancer with a Benchmark DAC 1 running off the mains via an isolation transformer and PS Audio Power Plant. So very well supplied – or so I thought. 

I recently purchased a Cambridge Audio DAC Magic Plus which runs from a 12 volt DC supply – perfect for a battery. I initially tried the Cambridge from the supplied wall wart which was roughly comparable with the Benchmark etc. but it sounded greyer, less dimensional and flatter. 

I switched to the battery power supply with all the digital conversion process after the CD deck, powered by a battery. The change was astonishing. More detail, colour, dimension and depth with a powerful bass. 

The conclusion I have drawn from this is that the problem with digital replay is the quality of the power supply alone. The conversion process is so delicate that any interference will corrupt the end result. 

At the time I was listening to a local musician in the north east called Flossie Malavialle who has a stunning voice and is perfect for evaluating sound quality. She comes from Nimes but is settled in the north east. Her last two CDs “X” and “Dark Horses” are gems, locally recorded with local musicians. Find them on her web site. We have all been missing something. She is also very funny. 

As a last point, the battery powered Cambridge means I can now listen to music off CD in Dolby Pro Logic via the Teufel Audio surround sound decoder (I mentioned last time), also battery powered. This adds spatial effect around the room and opens out the sound even more. Curiously it improves the quality of the bass as well. 

Peter Graves

 

 

 

The 12V lead acid battery power supply, with mains charger, built by Peter Graves.

It "opens out the sound" he says, "adds more detail and depth and firmer bass".

 

 

 

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