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August 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.

 

 

 

 

Dave Swithens spent a day listening to cartridges at dealer 

Hi-Fi Sound in Stockton. And "I saved £70" he says. 

 

 

SUPPORT YOUR HI-FI RETAILER

I have been a music listener – both live and hi-fi – for the past 40 years and although I have kept my turntable all these years it has had little use this past 18 months as I was setting up my music server to go with my new PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC. 

After a good amount of success and very satisfied with the sound using WAV files and Jriver, I then turned to the possibility of digitising my vinyl. 

First job, full set up of turntable to achieve best quality. Wow – I should not have been distracted from vinyl for so long!! Then the dreaded upgrade bug bytes and I start to look for dealers to listen to stuff, just as I would have 25/30 tears ago. Unfortunately, it is not as easy now so I start with a sale or return on some phono leads to replace the stock items, do loads of internet reading of reviews and manage to get a good cable. 

Now for the cartridge I have just about convinced myself after the numerous glowing reviews that the Ortofon 2M Black is the way way to go, but could not easily get a listen and there were cheaper prices advertised on the internet to consider. After several weeks of historic experience of listening vs my pocket, I finally bit the bullet and arranged a proper demonstration at HI-FI Sound Stockton with my chosen cartridges and a Grado reference Sonata 1, suggested by Simon at the dealers, and to my surprise the Grado was by far the better sounding cartridge. I am so glad I did not go with the cheap internet price, I would be listening with regret forever at the worst, or another upgrade at the best.

So no matter how how much a good deal you think you are getting, for me it would be wasted money if you are not completely happy with the sound. 

Finally, the demo had taken the best part of the day with a couple of technical issues, this particular dealer earned every bit of his money on this day, and I can honestly say I am glad I spent that extra £50, which I actually didn’t because the preferred cartridge was approx.  £70 cheaper than the one I had chosen by reviews. How’s that for a happy ending! I won, the dealer won, ho *bay lost! 

Keep up the good work. 

Best Regards, 

Dave Swithens

 

That must a digital bug that “bytes’ methinks! And when you say “25/30 tears ago” was the experience really that upsetting? Or is that just a typo? Typos can be amusing and yours are spot-on Dave.  And it's interesting to hear about a dealer able and willing to demo cartridges, a rare event. Thanks. NK

 

ANTAL DRIVE

As an owner of a pair of Triangle Antal ESs I read with interest Gareth Williams’s letter and your reply about suitable amplification for his 30th Anniversary Triangle Antals. Mine is an earlier model of course, and I think the later versions go a bit deeper and are a little drier than mine, but perhaps I can offer my experience.

When I first bought my Antals I drove them with a GRAAF Ventecinque (all valve 25w+25w integrated). The midrange was superb, but I found the bass a little weak and so eventually replaced the GRAAF with Croft amplification – Micro 25R Pre (all valve) and 7R Power (valve/MOSFET hybrid). 

I have been using this combination, with Russ Andrews/Kimber power block, cords, interconnects and speaker leads for nearly three years now and remain delighted with the music I am getting. The mids are just as sweet as before but there is much more definition in the treble and bass areas, and much more precise imaging. Certainly worth investigating for real value for money and great music, although I should also give credit to Russ Andrews and Ray Kimber for giving me a very low noise floor.

On a different subject, I missed George Hulme in the June issue, until I read Haden Boardman’s reference to him. George and I are fellow members of Big Bands Windsor and I find his recitals, often using material from his collection of transcription discs, are always interesting and the music he chooses good to listen to. I am the deejay and occasional recitalist myself. Second Wednesday in the month all year round at Datchet Village Hall. I perform the same function at Pinner Big Band – first Wednesday every month at Pinner Hall. Both kick-off at 19:45. This is a great evening out for very little money, and with as much modesty as I can muster the sound from my Mackie PA system is pretty good too.

Best wishes,

Bob Parsons

 

 

 

Bob Parsons is "delighted with the music I am getting" from Triangle Antals,

driven by Croft valve amplifiers, with "credit to Russ Andrews and Ray

Kimber for giving me a very low noise floor". 

 

 

That’s all very interesting Bob. The Antals suit valve amps I felt, their damped bass avoiding the common ‘softness’ in the bass of a valve amplifier, due to its low electrical damping. 

And if my visit to ClassicAlbumSundays (see http://classicalbumsundays.com) is anything to go by your music evenings are likely to be popular. I hope Hi-Fi World readers will be interested. NK

 

SEETHING

Hello. Seething here. Let me get straight to the point. Its all about the music, right! Or at least it was in the good old days. Unfortunately now, its all about the convenience, accessibility and coolness of the equipment, with the quality of music reproduction being well down the list on most youngsters butterfly minds. Personally I blame the cassette tape! This changed things for good, for with it came the prospect of portability and convenience, but only if you carried a pencil to wind the tape back into the cassette. At the end of the day the cassette was happily found to be, in the modern vernacular, “pants” and we returned to our beloved vinyl. A decade or so later the digital train rolled into the station and the red braced, gelled up marketing men saw an opportunity to sell us a dream of ultimate portability combined with unsurpassed digital sound quality. For many years the digital dream was also pants, but eventually it came to pass that the men in braces were right, to an extent. The CD evolved to become an effective portable media, and in a high quality audio system it was, and still is, capable of musical greatness. 

Later still the combination of falling hardware costs, improvements in digital technology and the advent of the internet led to the final blow for audiophiles everywhere. The work of Satan to which I refer is MP3. This highly compressed and low quality format enabled the development of what every teenager craved, true portability and ultimate musical convenience, but was it music as we (the audio elders) had come to love it? Unfortunately, so called progress has led to a world flooded with MP3 devices that are more about convenience and coolness than music reproduction, thank you very much Apple! 

The availability of downloaded music has led to a generation to whom music is a utility, like electricity or gas, that is on tap 24/7, but is it actually heard? And now, not satisfied with lowering standards, MP3 is leading to the demise of the last bastion of high quality music media, the CD. 

But hang on! What about lossless digital music formats I hear you ask? Whilst I accept that such formats may be high fidelity, the problem is that lossless formats will never become a globally available media that covers anywhere near the range of music that MP3, CD or even vinyl has achieved. The reason for this is simple; there is no business case for the large music vendors such as Amazon or Apple to put pressure on the music industry to make such formats available. The vast majority of purchasers no longer want high fidelity, because it is not part of the cool culture, and because they wouldn’t know what high fidelity was if they ran into it on their BMX! 

The reason for this is that appreciating music requires a couple of ideas that are alien to modern culture. Firstly music appreciation requires massive pieces of reasonably expensive equipment that don’t fit in a pocket and that look really ugly dude! 

Secondly it requires the user to actually sit down for more than five minutes to listen, without feeling the urge to tweet something inane, or check on Facebook that they are still alive. What the punters want is what iTunes gives them; fast downloadable music that is available 24 hours a day on a cool piece of technology that can be played through a cheap pair of headphones (now back in fashion apparently), or through a dreadful IPod Dock thingy, both enabling their brains to be turned to mush and desensitised to what music can truly offer. 

Do I own an MP3 player? Of course I do, it’s the only thing that gets me through chair aerobics on Thursdays, but it in no way replaces the emotions and sheer joy brought about by active listening though a high fidelity system. 

So this, my friends, is the brave new world of MP3. So why not rely upon the goodness of the major music vendors to rectify this situation? Well for Amazon, or a similar sized supplier, to offer a reasonable percentage of its music library in lossless format would require an approximate tenfold increase in their data storage capacity! This isn’t just a case of adding a few drives to their servers, but requires building and maintaining new data storage facilities at huge cost – and for what return! Are the vast majority of MP3 junkies going to pay a premium for a media that takes far longer to download, fills up their device with less music, to then hear no real benefit through their cheap and cheerful headsets? 

No, the truth is that lossless makes no business sense in today’s world and this will remain so as long as IPods and Onesies rule the roost. I know Mr Editor that you will attempt to be positive (pointless by the way) by listing several websites that are offering lossless files, but with all the best will in the world they are, and will remain, a drop in the musical ocean. 

This situation will leave the audiophile high a dry. With the demise of the Compact Disc we will be left with the pickings on the floor, trying to source high fidelity recordings from any format we can find. This means that I will eventually succumb to spending a small fortune on some device so as to play the relatively small number of lossless files I can find from new artists. 

However, it gets worse. There are worrying signs that some artists are already only offering their art on MP3 format! What on earth makes them believe that such a poor media can in any way convey the subtleties, passion and emotion of their music, oh I forgot, they grew up with MP3! 

The irony is that it is these very artists who are the only ones who can change the game and demand that their music be heard as it should be, and make lossless media available to the masses, but I fear this will not happen; I am afraid all is lost. Anyway, the nurse is coming around with the trolley and Home and Away is on in a minute, so over and out for now. 

Regards, 

Dean Marshall New

 

 

"Do you know how much of the music you have been missing with MP3", say HDtracks,

echoing Dean Marshall New's thoughts on the format.

 

 

 

 

The Diamond Rio MP3  player, the world's first solid-state media player,

played compressed MP3 files and started it all. They are the "work of Satan"

says Dean Marshall New! 

 

Er - yes, thanks Dean! Very little music is originated in MP3, thankfully. And what is likely deserves its fate. I see MP3 more as a transmission medium, one that goes back a bit to times when dial-up-modems were the norm and data rates slower than an arthritic snail. It doesn’t have a future; it’s a technology of the past.

The move to high quality headphones, as a replacement for ear buds, gives us all hope that the issue of quality hasn’t quite died and may well return. Hi-res music files sure are big, but then we thought that of 40GB hard drives five years ago – and now 2TBs are the norm. With BT infinity offering up to 76Mbps download speed there’s plenty of bandwidth for audio. So the infrastructure is emerging.

A financial case? If music exists in decent quality in the first place, as an analogue tape or half-decent digital recording, it isn’t a big deal to turn it into a high resolution digital file fit for sale and the end result will be worth paying for. The issue here is price. Deriving high quality files isn’t an expensive process, unless you are talking about re-digitising the Beatles 1960s tapes perhaps. So quality music files shouldn’t be overly expensive. Apple encourage artists to supply their material in 24/96 quality and it’s a short step to making this available on-line. I don’t see any big barrier to quality music becoming available and affordable, so I’m not too worried about it yet. Hope the nurse is nice! NK

 

ON THE KLYDE

At the tail end of my letter published in the September 2012 issue, I briefly asked if there were good alternatives to a Linn Klyde cartridge that would suit my Linn LP12 (‘just short of SE’ spec)/Lingo 1/Ekos/Linto, and have been trying to follow Noel’s advice to check out examples such as the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze/Black, or others from Benz Micro or Van den Hul. 

Since my letter I have had the LP12 upgraded with the Inspire Hi-Fi sub-chassis and arm board, which I can highly recommend. The rest of my system consists of Kairn pre-amp, Musical Fidelity XA50 monoblocks with J S Audio upgrades, and Tannoy M20 Gold MkII speakers upgraded by Derek Gilligan of Kudos fame. Russ Andrews / Kimber cabling is used throughout. 

All vinyl is wet cleaned using L’Art Du Son in a Knosti. Whilst both local hi-fi dealers are happy to order and install any cartridge for me, the one who has supplied much of my Linn gear is only familiar with Linn cartridges. The other has wider experience, was a Linn dealer some years ago, and agrees with Noel’s preference for Ortofons but warns that there is some difficulty in fitting Rondos and particularly Cadenzas into the Ekos headshell, “although it can be done”. 

Your comparative test a while back was interesting, when the Rondo Bronze was found superior to the Cadenza Red. Advice elsewhere has suggested that I should first improve on the Ekos arm (which incidentally had the ‘mk II’ bearing upgrade done just before I bought it), with SME and Origin Live being recommended. 

‘Checking out’ is therefore proving difficult, not to say confusing, so I am returning to HFW with this update and a more detailed description of my problem. Budget? I suppose I would be loath to go further than £1000 for what is effectively a consumable(!) for a system that is certainly not ‘high end’, so this takes more expensive Linn cartridges out of the equation, and makes Noel’s preferences for a Cadenza Bronze or Black a bit of a stretch. 

But with Linn’s reluctance to allow comparative reviews of its products and no dealers available who offer comparison demos, I really have no clue as to how well the Klyde compares sound-wise with other cartridges. Some people seem to suggest it can be easily improved upon at its price point. As well as overall sound quality however, I am particularly sensitive to what appears to be its relatively poor tracking ability, commonly on some female vocals. 

Whilst the Klyde represented a significant improvement in overall detail retrieval and sound quality over the Linn Adikt cartridge that preceded it, there were no evident ‘mistracking’ distortions with the Adikt. My Klyde is nicely settled in after about 300 hours, but quite a few albums exhibit a tendency to ‘edginess’ and very occasional sudden distortion that has been there since it was new. Indeed this aspect seems to be inherent to the model as this Klyde was a free replacement for one that was the same, but also suffered channel imbalance - suggesting some quality control problems at Linn! 

Until recently there was also incidentally a tendency to ‘end of side’ distortion that had plagued both the Adikt and then the Klyde but I have very effectively sorted this using an Avid alignment gauge - I was amazed at how a small alteration from the Linn dealer alignment instantly did the trick. Examples of this mistracking? These include ‘The very best of Diana Krall’ which mostly sounds great, but in a couple of places suddenly distorts badly on the vocals and piano. 

Christine Collister’s ‘Love’ exhibits the same very occasional problem. Heidi Talbot’s ‘In love and light’ mostly sounds lovely but there is a slight ‘edge’ to her voice some of the time. There are no problems with an elderly original pressing of Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘The incomparable ...’. It doesn’t appear that the mistracking is necessarily linked with cutting level/dynamics. All Dire Straits albums sound great - ‘Brothers in arms’ was used by Robert Isherwood on my deck as a great demo of his Inspire Hi-Fi mods. Scritti Politti’s ‘Provision’ sounds superb throughout. Bernstein’s Deutsche Grammophon ‘West Side Story Symphonic Dances’ is cut at a high level, and has wonderful dynamics and overall sound without any audible distortion. But Explosions In The Sky’s ‘All of a sudden I miss everyone’ lacks dynamics yet distorts badly in one or two places. 

So, how would you describe the Klyde’s sound against the Ortofon’s, Micro Benz’s etc? Do you consider the mistracking I am experiencing to be an inherent Klyde weakness? Or might something else be the matter? The Ekos? Should I in any case consider replacing this because other arm/cartridge combinations would make a happier pairing? If absolutely necessary I could probably justify another £1000 towards an arm but would prefer to stay with the Ekos if possible. So, replace the cartridge? Replace the arm? Both? I really would value your advice. Thanks again for an excellent mag. 

All best wishes, 

Prof David A Deeks 

www.davedeeks.com

 

 

 

"The very best of Diana Krall mostly sounds great, but in a couple of places

suddenly distorts badly on the vocals and piano", says Prof David A Deeks.

Replace the cartridge? Replace the arm?

 

Hi David. If you keep the Linn arm you will be forever limited in cartridge choice. I am no expert with the Klyde (I don’t run a Linn system) but Linn cartridges I have reviewed in the past did not track well (as well as having very low output). From what you are saying the Klyde is mistracking occasionally. Make sure the stylus is clean and tracking force set to the maximum specified of 1.75gms. Or even make that 1.8gms, as most MCs track at 2 - 2.2gms maximum. It may even be that the spec for tracking force is too low; what manufacturers decide isn’t always right. 

Alternatively, replace the arm with an SME309, which is a gorgeous arm and then the MC world is your oyster. The only difficulty is the SME assembly is heavy and a corner brace in the plinth will need trimming. That’s why SMEs on Linns are not so common. 

Simpler and lighter as a total assembly is a Rega so perhaps you should buy an RB303 or RB1000, and spend your remaining pennies on a cartridge. I run an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze and love it, but the higher models have a smoother, darker sound (no treble lift) you may prefer. Generally, as the price of Ortofons goes up, treble level goes down! 

Our group test of budget MC cartridges that you can now find on the website (www.hi-fiworld.co.uk) identified many good ones, from Denon, Audio Technica through to Benz Micro and Ortofon. It’s an active market nowadays and I think you will be surprised at how good modern budget moving coil cartridges have become. For you, it is time to move on from your current set-up and for £1000 I think you will be pleased with the outcome. An RB303 costs £350, leaving £650 for the cartridge – enough for a Benz Micro Ace SL or Audio Technica AT-OS9 MLIII for example, both good trackers. I see no problems here. NK

 

CHEAP AS CHIPS

Sometimes in life pleasant surprises can happen really quite by accident. I know its often been touched on by your excellent magazine and in readers letters before. I am talking about cheap as chips systems that sound really rather good.

I am currently at the beginning of a two year self-build house project (footings going in almost as I type this) and while this is taking place, we are residing in our double garage (complete with toilet/shower and kitchenette area, so snug and comfy). As it measures in at a bijou twenty-six square metres, my partner and I have been quite ruthless in just what possessions we allowed ourselves to have whilst compact living.

This extended to the hi-fi system too, with all my Naim kit now boxed up and stored in my sister’s spare bedroom for the duration, but as we both like to relax with music and a glass of vino after a hard day at the coalface, a small (and cheap) audio solution was required.

I had an old Audiolab 8000A tucked away in my former (now demolished) loft, which is about a mid-nineties unit given to me by a former work colleague several years ago, so a free one! 

Added to this I had a pair of original Castle Richmond stand mounters (immaculate condition, lovely wood veneer and twenty quid from a local newspaper ad.) and a pair of stands (Atacama SE 24) which I had filled with kiln dried sand years ago and again were in the loft (another £15 bargain).

Finally, a source was needed which came along in the shape of an Arcam DV88 DVD Player. This time a second hand Ebay purchase, in immaculate boxed condition for fifty quid! I read up that for a DVD player Arcam had made a bomb proof unit which can give most mid-price CD spinners a run for their money, so it seemed a good punt.

So on moving-in day (well weekend), after all the furnishings were complete, I set up this little system. The amplifier was hooked up to the speakers with Naim NACA5 speaker cables (from my boxed up kit) and I used a budget QED RCA cable for the DVD player. I mounted the Richmonds onto the stands with a bit of blue-tack under the speakers and gave all the terminations a quick clean-up with Kontact fluid.

With all that done, sitting back on the sofa, I popped on a bit of Porcupine Tree (Signify) and to my utter amazement I was totally blown away! Thinking I had possibly fluked the perfect choice of music, my missus and I started listening to all sorts of genres. On went Depeche Mode’s latest offering (Delta machine) and again we had a fast, precise, really exciting sound filling the room. We followed that with Diana Krall (A Night in Paris) where we seemed to join the audience for this gig – and on and on, Portishead, Pink Floyd, Wynton Marsalis, Donizetti, Mahlereven. A thrash of Never Mind the Bollocks had Mr. Rotten sounding at his twisted, snarling best! 

The most impressive thing was the imaging which seemed to place you so far into the sound stage like my Naim system could never manage!!

I have since had the 8000A re-capped and serviced by Kevin Green over in Bicester (check out his website http://www.theaudiocellar.co.uk/ ) and it sounds even better still.

So my £4k Naim kit may now be going onto the Bay to help pay for a bathroom and I will carry on with my £300 system instead (£220 of that was in the re-furb and the Naca5 cable don’t forget). Just goes to show that in this time of austerity you really can get pretty decent results on a shoe-string.

Best regards.

Garry Capon 

Aylesbury. 

 

 

 

"I have had the 8000A re-capped and serviced by Kevin Green over in Bicester

(check out his website http://www.theaudiocellar.co.uk) and it sounds even better

still" says Gary Capon.

 

Sounds wonderful Gary. Hi-fi does not have to be expensive to be enjoyable. It doesn’t even have to be perfect to be enjoyable either, as you – in effect – point out. And well made UK products do stand the test of time. NK 

 

QUAD ESL-57s

Thank you very much for replying to my enquiry about the space needed behind a pair of Quad ESL-57 electrostatic loudspeakers. Your advice was much appreciated. I was unable to get them 6 feet from the back wall as there is a door in the way and having them further out would mean that they are just too far into the room. I did manage to get them about four and a half feet out and as you suggested I got a couple of rugs which I have placed behind them and that has certainly helped. 

I also changed to a slightly more powerful amp. I brought an old Icon Audio Stereo 40 that I have out of retirement to run them. 

In your reply to my last letter you suggest that a Quad II-forty amp is a good amp to partner them with. Would something like the Icon Audio MB845i drive them or would that be too powerful? I have read that you have to be careful about arcing if you put too much power through the Quads. The Quads have been checked and serviced. I have a maximum of £4000 for the power amps and most of my listening is done with vinyl.  

William Ford

 

 

 

Quad ESL-57s need space behind them and William Ford used rugs to

absorb their rear sound. But how much power do they need?

 

 

Hi William.  As you say, the ESL-57s will arc if you over-drive them and around 60 Watts is enough.  The Quad II-eighty power amplifiers are your best choice if you want a little more bottom end push. Designed by Tim de Paravicini, they really are superb amplifiers. The MB845 MkII is overly ambitious I feel, although a nice subjective match as it has a big, solid bass. 

I believe I am right in saying One Thing Audio can fit a diode protection kit to the ESL-57s to prevent arcing, by the way. NK

 

WHICH TURNTABLE

I am looking for a little advice about what to do with a collection of record decks I have amassed over the years. They are (in order of acquisition):

Dual CS701 (semi-automatic direct drive complete with it’s own arm and Shure V15III cartridge).

Linn (Valhalla’d, but now with a DC motor), Hadcock 228 export arm, no cartridge.

Michell Orbe with longer Hadcock arm (not sure of the model name) with Lyra Lydian Beta cartridge.

Thorens 125(?) deck (the one with the square buttons), SME 3009 Improved arm, B&O cartridge with no stylus. I found this unit in a dump. Chassis only, no base, but seems to work OK.

I will probably sell the Linn and maybe the Thorens but am wondering if there is any merit in retaining/refurbishing/converting the Dual. Any thoughts?

I am also surprised not to have seen any reviews of my current PA monoblocks –- Puresound M845s. They are truly exceptional, as they ought to be at the price. I listened to them compared to Belles solid state amps, which are a couple of grand cheaper, and which the dealer personally preferred for their more incisive and detailed sound (I didn’t). Does Hi-Fi World have any plans to review the M845s? I really recommend you give them a listen.

David Rogers

Oxford

 

 

 

 

A Thorens TD125 turntable, "the one with square buttons", with early Thorens arm. 

"I found this unit in a dump" says Dave Rogers. It is worth renovating.

 

 

 

 

Of those decks I would gravitate toward keeping the Thorens and updating it with a better arm and cartridge. Sounds like it needs a service, as well as a plinth. In the first instance you should clean the belt or renew it, clean and oil the main bearing, clean the motor pulley and ensure it is running true (it is not bent) then perch the thing on some form of support so it is level, fit a cartridge to the arm and play an LP with sustained piano notes, like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. If they wobble furiously, there’s a problem that may not be worth fixing. If they sound stable, and of clean tone (not ‘cracked’ tone) then this is the turntable to keep. The Dual should pass this test, with its Direct Drive motor, so compare the two. 

Why not keep the Dual? It’s arm isn’t the best, nor the platter or plinth. If you put the TD125 into a good, solid wooden plinth then fit it with a Rega arm it should sound superb. The Linn would also benefit from a new, modern arm and cartridge and there’s nothing wrong with the Michell Orbe either! Sounds like you have hours of fun ahead. NK

 

CLASSIC SOUND

I have been buying various hi-fi on and off (more on) for over 35 years from the likes of Garrard, Rega, Naim and Musical Fidelity to name but a few. I have spent the last few years without any kit due to a redundancy and having to sell everything. But finally I decided enough of this sad existence and purchased an Audiolab M-DAC, used Onkyo ND-S1, Sennheiser HD 598 headphones and a Chord Prodac cable. 

I then grabbed my 13 year old son’s iPod Classic which was already loaded with everything from my CDs (in Aiff and Apple lossless) from Zappa, Reed, Traffic, Stones, Fresh Maggots, Gordan Jackson etc (can’t be many 13 year old kids who love this era of music - no X-factor stuff under my roof). 

Anyway, I don’t know if it’s the close proximity of the headphones or just a combination of the new kit but every album is like a new album I can just hear so much more – especially live recordings. 

Now most of these recordings I have had on vinyl but I never remember them sounding (to me anyway) this good. Whats going on? Although I’m not complaining. I am really amazed and pleased, so is my wife – apart from when I burst into song. 

So to my question: do you think spending any more money on a coaxial could improve my sound even more? Budget about £200. Also, I will carry on buying CDs as most of what I like is not yet available in hi res, plus I still like to have that physical ownership. 

Kind Regards, 

Gary Armitt

 

 

 

"I grabbed my 13 year old son’s iPod Classic ... every album

is like a new album" says Gary Armitt.

 

 

I presume you mean co-axial cable between Onkyo ND-S1 and Audiolab M-DAC, to replace the Chord Prodac cable. I think you would have to try it and see, because the Chord cable is a good one. However, digital cables do measurably affect performance and they vary in their sound accordingly. Not by a great amount I feel, but then digital is peculiar in being subliminally upsetting, something analogue generally avoids. 

I have spasms of headphone listening too – having a perfectly laid out sound stage through the head is always great, especially when listening to Hendrix playing 'All Along The Watchtower'. Bliss! 

For best quality ensure you make bit-perfect rips using Exact Audio Copy or dBpoweramp. I would not rip into iTunes; I try and keep away from iTunes in fact. Then stay in WAV or Apple Lossless. NK

 

WHARFEDALE AIREDALE

Like that famous time traveller I had a time warp experience. What triggered this was the excellent article on the Wharfedale Airedale Classic speakers. I wondered how many of your readers owned the original Wharfedale Airedales They were quite a revelation when released. I owned three pairs at different times during the sixties and seventies. Now in my mid-seventies I can look back on the beginnings of what was called hi-fi sound, later stereo sound. I consider it a privilege to have experienced the pleasure of a new sound dimension that people like Gilbert Briggs of Wharfedale and Harold Leak, and others through their skills brought to music lovers. In most homes if you were fortunate you would own a record player, or maybe a Murphy or HMV radiogram – complete with its metal needle. 

Crumble records were the order of the day – drop them and they crumbled! Radio dealers started to sell more of what we would call hi-fi equipment. Specialist dealers then appeared. The vinyl LP became more available followed by FFSS, Phase 4 and Quadraphonic versions.

The annual pilgrimage to the hi-fi exhibition held in The Hotel Russell in London was the place to hear the latest equipment and meet the manufacturers. One could sense the excitement from manufacturers and visitors. All were only too willing to speak to you and give advice. Initially U.K. products were in pre-eminence, some American, but in later years Japanese. 

In those days the enthusiast’s set up would be either Quad, Leak, or Armstrong depending on budget, and coupled to Quad, Wharfedale or Goodmans speakers. 

My own set up comprised of Leak Stereo 20 amplifier, Leak pre amp. Garrard 301 turntable. Decca FFSS arm and cartridge. In addition a Vortexion half track tape recorder, and a Revox G36 (valve) tape recorder. My speakers were Airedales . I got hold of the publicity material you reproduced in your article. Scaling up the dimensions and produced my own drawings. I constructed the cabinets, Wharfedale supplied the drive units and crossovers. Wilmslow Audio supplied the Tygan cloth and ancillaries to finish the units. I varied from the design by using 18mm Finnish ply in construction, incorporated extra bracing and used bitumastic felt pads for dampening. 

The sound reproduced from classical and military brass bands was superb. I later bought Wharfedale’s Airedales. I preferred my own, possibly because of dampening and denser construction. Later I built another pair, this time using KEF drive units. I then bought a pair of Decca Kelly speakers. These housed a 300mm bass driver and a Kelly Ribbon Horn. I have never seen another pair. They were truly excellent. Looking at the classics section of the magazine I see many of the items I have owned over the years. Sadly my hearing is not very good now. I wonder how may people can afford £25000? My Airedales cost  £118. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. 

John Wilson 

Carlisle 

 

 

 

Wharfedale Airedales –  "I owned three pairs at different times during the

sixties and seventies" John Wilson tells us. 

 

 

 

 

DSD OVER HDMI

I have a question regarding DSD over HDMI. I own around a dozen SACDs and I own a budget Sony Blu-ray player which I understand can be set to output DSD over its HDMI output. I also own an Audiolab 8200 CD player, whose DAC (ESS sabre) I believe can decode DSD, although the 8200 CD has not been configured to read the DSD layer of SACDs. 

My question is whether it is possible to output DSD over the HDMI of the Blu-ray player, use a HDMI audio extractor to then send digital audio via S/PDIF to the 8200 CD, where the internal DAC could (hopefully) decode the DSD? 

I know it sounds a bit absurd and perhaps I should buy a dedicated SACD player or one of the home theatre receivers that can decode DSD. I welcome your reply. 

Best regards, 

Phil Rigby. 

Brisbane. 

Australia.

 

The answer is no!  DSD cannot be transmitted via S/PDIF, only PCM code. The audio extractor will not output DSD, nor turn it to PCM and output that. And the Audiolab will not read DSD from S/PDIF either, so you’re snookered.  Go to DSD Guide for more general info. on DSD. I did ask Audiolab for you and their answer was a terse “no” as well. Sorry to bring bad news. 

The good news is that now DSD is swinging back into view again, promoted by Sony and outfits like Blue Coast Records (http://bluecoastrecords.com), receivers with DSD decode ability are becoming more common. Unfortunately, they commonly turn DSD to PCM in software first, before passing it through the receiver’s PCM convertors, and this isn’t ideal, although I cannot say it is a disaster either, in my experience to date. DSD is more linear across the audio band and has a tad more dynamic range than 24bit PCM, but the margin is small. In the past DSD has also sounded more natural than PCM, more analogue like, but I do suspect differences are eroding as PCM improves. NK

 

FURUTECH AND LINN

Thanks for the Furutech Esprit Review  I think it’s the first proper review of an ADC (i.e. including measurements and details of recording) that I’ve ever read. One of your competitors, in their review, just said something like “,,,and the ADC was fine too” !

However, as I am on the lookout for an ADC to digitize mainly vinyl, I do have a few questions:

1. Does recording / playback work off USB power i.e. without the unit’s own power supply plugged in ? 

2. Does recording support ASIO (I’ve read that playback does)? 

3. Is the Esprit compatible with windows XP, Windows 8? 

4. Does it do 88.2 kHz - recording/playback? 

5. Do you have any idea how it compares, as an ADC only, to:  HRT Linestreamer+ (can’t find any meaningful reviews on this, though several amateur reviewers on the web say it’s fine, good enough for them etc.)  Focusrite Forte USB (enthusiastic reviews from the recording community, albeit without any measurements,  but is it hi-fi?).

Benchmark ADC bit expensive for me, but if much better... (HFW gave this a positive review some time back  but no measurements).

I currently have an EMU 0404 which is good for the price and very versatile (around £110 a few years back) but not so good sonically. I also have a Meridian 221MP MAX which converts analogue to 24/96 only (which is fine for me), but only has an electrical SPDIF output which I then have to convert to USB using the EMU. It sounds better than just the EMU, but not a lot. I suspect I need a better S/PDIF-to-USB convertor. 

So, I am looking to improve on what I have. Your comments are eagerly awaited!

On another subject, a while back I bought two 96/24 downloads from Linn records (Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo Fields of June & Every Season). Finding it a bit digital sounding (played via Foobar), I checked it with Audacity which indicated that some portions of it were clipping. I wrote to Linn about this, and they replied that they had had issues with Audacity in the past and that there is no audible clipping within our recordings (full letter at end). This raises the questions: is Audacity at fault?; does Audacity show inaudible clipping; is it a Linn recording? Is Linn’s definition of audible different to mine? Again, I would be interested in your comments,

Regards,

Nick Pledger

 

 

 

Furetech Esprit preamp has a high quality Analogue-to-Digital convertor

(ADC) on board, able to digitize LP and send it to a 

computer through a USB link.

 

 

Dear Nicholas, Thank you for your e-mail. We wouldn’t recommend using Audacity as we have had issues with this software in the past. I can advise that there is no audible clipping within our recordings.

Best Regards,

Colin, Customer Support, Linn Products.

 

Hi Colin, No one at the magazine has experience of comparing the Furutech with the DACs you mention so we cannot truthfully comment on comparative performances. However, as digital technology moves on at a cracking pace I rather suspect that a good new product like the Esprit, that I was thoroughly impressed with, will come out looking good. 

We reviewed a group of USB-to-S/PDIF convertors (March 12 issue - and see website) and found the Halide Bridge very good. But surely you need to replace the current set-up and for recording vinyl the Esprit was superb at the price, eliminating your need for such a convertor. You will find Furutech’s reply to your queries about the Esprit below.

I am not aware of any problems with the free Audacity music editor and I have been using it for some years now. You may well not hear short term clipping. This will only affect sound quality if it is consistent and severe. 

More likely, if the recording “sounds digital” it was made using a poor ADC and/or it has been compressed or distorted in the editing process by cheapskate digital techniques, and possibly jittered within the recording system too. Two people told me recently that top quality recordings they made were turned to sonic dust in the editing process, by engineers who had little idea of how digital can be degraded there. The idea that “bits are bits” still holds sway in large swathes of the music world, it is sad to say. To be specific, one recording was compressed on the fly by the editing software and the other was edited on a cheap home PC. Digital recordings are commonly mangled at birth in this fashion, sad to say, which is why digital has gained a bad reputation. NK

 

FURUTECH say  -

1) Does recording / playback work off USB power – without the unit’s own power supply plugged in?

Playback is possible with USB BUS Power only via the TOSLINK output only. All other functions require the AC adaptor to be connected.

 

2) Does recording support ASIO 

(I’ve read that playback does)?

Yes, if the recording software supports ASIO for recording.

3) Is the Esprit compatible with Windows XP, Windows 8?

Yes, but  please note that sampling and bit rates cannot be adjusted on Windows XP.

 

4) Does it do 88.2 kHz - recording/playback?

No, Sampling rates supported are: 8 /16 /32 /44.1 /48 /96 kHz.

 

THE DRIP, DRIP OF VINYL

The May issue has a letter which deals with one of your reader’s (David Jarvis) journey to what he feels is musical nirvana. As I have come to expect there was the usual drip, drip of “vinyl is better, it sounds better, it’s more natural” etc. 

Well, fair enough, Noel has never really had much of a good word for CD since it started and if nothing else he has least been consistent. However, I do feel that sometimes the vinyl case is pushed a bit beyond its limits in many of articles. Vinyl is a very good medium for getting music in your life, but often it needs a fairly large investment in the turntable, arm and cartridge – and then just as much again in phono stage amplification and set up. You also have to be pretty dedicated to find the vinyl LPs you are looking for, as they are not easily found in the High Street anymore. 

There is also the cost to be considered, which at this time is very high for a brand new release and still quite high even for reissue. In my case I would also cite the lack of catalogue for vinyl as a problem. Of the current 1500+ CDs I own only about 600 are currently available in vinyl and those that are not are also unlikely to ever see the light of day on that medium. This would seriously reduce my current listening pool. 

It was noticeable that Mr Jarvis, while he says that he prefers to listen to LP, when tried side by side he could not hear much of a difference between his CD and LP. Given that most current LP, either new or reissue, are high price items there is often great care taken to master these albums over and above the often slap dash way CDs are issued. 

If you do not think this is the case I would suggest you compare the standard issue of a CD with the CD layer on its SACD equivalent. In every case that I have heard the SACD layer copy is much improved over the original CD because SACD is marketed as a high quality medium and care is taken in the mastering of both layers (it might also be that the CD layer while improved is not as good as it could in order not to embarrass the SACD layer, but there is no way to prove that unless you were there at the original mastering).

I would also wonder what steps have been taken in Mr Jarvis system in the set up and choice of interconnects, power supply and all the other finer points to maximise his digital replay? In almost every vinyl fan’s system I have heard they go to very great lengths from replacement bearing oil, arm wire, cartridge tags through additional power supplies, to get the last bit of quality from their system, but it is not always the same sort of trial and error work they do for the digital side. 

This is just a personal observation but in general if you make all the effort in your system to get the best from your vinyl it will not always be the best way to get your digital sounding as good as it should. If on the other hand you look at the digital side and work as hard as possible to improve that and get it sounding as good through your equipment as you can this almost always improves the vinyl side as well. So if you want to get the best out of your vinyl and use digital as well, then get your digital in shape first then work on your vinyl – you might be surprised. 

I have not bought an LP in over 25 years and I am not going to change now. I currently own a Logic DM 101 fitted with a Rega RB300 plus Rega cartridge and while I would never claim this to be state of the art it is pretty good. 

My digital system is Theta Data Basic II, Squeezebox Touch (Toolbox 3.0, Triode Digital output), Perpetual Technology P-A1 Decoding Engine, Antimode 2.0 Dual Core Digital Room correction, Concordant Exhilarant Pre, Krell KSA 50 Power, Harbeth Compact Monitors II. For me at least they currently produce some of the best music I have ever heard in my home and they keep me scouring Amazon for the latest bargain used CDs, which unlike vinyl where you are taking a chance with second hand, in all of the discs I have bought the case may be damaged or scruffy but none of the discs were ever unable to be ripped to my music 1TB hard drive. 

I appreciate that many on your magazine prefer vinyl and quite possibly many of your readers do too but I think this has now been done to death. Like many I have grown tired of the equipment and hi-fi for hi-fi’s sake and want something that suits my taste and lets me enjoy all of the wide range of music that I own and will own. Music is what I feel most of us love and no matter how you listen to yours and what side of the divide you find yourself on music is what is important; all the rest is just the fuss that gets in the way of listening. I have never gotten too much enjoyment from giving anyone advice on what equipment they should buy but I have to admit to getting a really great kick out of introducing people to new music. 

Regards,

Andrew McBride 

 

 

 

"Compare the standard issue of a CD with the CD layer on its SACD equivalent. In every

case that I have heard the SACD layer copy is much improved over the original CD because

SACD is marketed as a high quality medium" says Andrew McBride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Server Farm Realty's new 450,000 square foot data center in Chicago. 

Cloud servers feedng the internet are where music is stored nowadays. 

 

 

The magazine features far more digital coverage than vinyl in truth Andrew. Perhaps we are growing cool on CD, but then you rip your CDs to a hard drive, so differences between us are not so great! Ripping LPs to a hard drive isn’t so easy, but now old analogue master tapes are being transferred to high resolution digital files, you can store these on your hard drive and not bother with LP.

What we are talking about here is the disappearance of the hard-formatted physical carrier, first the LP, then CD, then Blu-ray. Now digital files can be transferred to any storage device – they are agnostic. We still need physical storage, be it a hard disc or memory card, but we are now moving away from commercially mandated formats, of which CD was one. This is good in that it allows greater freedom of choice; if you want to listen to CD you can, and if I want to avoid it in preference to high res or analogue, I can too. This ease of access is introducing me to new artists as well, so it is liberating. And I promise to say nothing here about CD sound quality! NK 

 

CABIN FEVER

It’s been a long, wet winter here in British Columbia, Canada. Yours truly, in a fit of late spring cabin fever, decided to try the near-field listening mode so favoured by our American cousins. After a strategic retreat to the man cave (after the third pair of Yamaha NS 1000M loudspeakers somehow found their way chez nous) I settled on the pictured stacked set up, still driven by the Monarchy SM 100s paralleled.The maximum tweets driven by a prole Rotel (I took pity on the Monarchy’s ).

Front end. As pictured i.e. Pioneer PD 9 j transport and two DAC set ups.The primary system uses an old Perpetual Technologies P1a up-sampler set to 24/96 driving an Arcam rDac. The P1a feeds off a Monolithic PSU, the rDac also enjoys a dedicated regulated PSU.

It sounds quite amazing. The NS1000s are completely divorced from the sound field. I remain enthralled by beryllium...who knew what Yamaha wrought in1977 with their beryllium midrange dome.

The secondary DAC is the Perpetual Technology P3a also feeding off the Monolithic PSU...its outputs (confession time) drive a Carver “Sonic Hologram Generator” – ultimate audio cheese? Perhaps, but until you hear giggle-inducing sounds coming from under the couch and swirling around the ceiling, don’t knock it. It is far, far from the absolute sound but great fun – which is what this pursuit, hobby or whatever you want, surely is all about. 

Once you liberate yourself from the sourpuss orthodoxies of our shared madness it gets way more enjoyable.

Well, got to go...going to see Taj Mahal tonite – full on geezer blues. 

Great mag keep it up. Spring’s here.

Andy Smith

Canada.

 

 

 

"The man cave after the third pair of Yamaha NS 1000M loudspeakers

arrived" Andy Smith explains. 

 

 

THE ONLY ONE?

Regarding the review of Astell&Kern AK120 portable digital player, July 2013 issue. First let me say that I appreciate that Hi-Fi World has measured the player and not only listened. It seems (mostly) to be a well done review. However, the article as a whole seems to assume that there are no other portable players at this sound quality level, and I specifically find that the following statement is quite misleading: “... no one puts top Wolfson DACs into a portable player – but this player has them.”

Several portable players have DAC chips designed for high-end home stereo gear – and some have been on the market for several years. These are (from memory only):

1)  HiFiMan HM-801 (it uses Burr Brown PCM1704UK - by some reviewers judged as the best DAC chip ever and used in high end DACs and CDPs to this day). The HM-801 has native 24-bit playback up to 96kHz and has been on the market for several years. It has user replaceable amp boards – including an optional balanced amp (with balanced outputs of course) having 440mW output. Voltage swing is not stated, but the battery of the player is 14.8 V giving it a much higher voltage output than AK120. 

2)  iBasso DX100 (uses Sabre ES9018 DAC chip - needs no further introduction). Has 24-bit native playback up to 192kHz. It has an amp spec’d to 5.0 Volts or 245mW. There is also a Japanese version called Hibino HDP-R10 which basically is a DX100 with larger battery and other opamp (OPA627). http://www.ibasso.com/en/products/show.asp?ID=78

3) Colorfly C4 (uses CIRRUS LOGIC CS4398 DAC chip). Also a high end portable player with 24 bit native playback up to 192kHz. Jitter is stated to be less that 5ps, which is one tenth of the AK120 jitter. http://www.colorfly.eu/product_index.html

4) FiiO X3 (also uses the Wolfson 8740 DAC chip). This is just/barely on the market, so not at the time of writing/publishing. At the price of around US$200 it really demonstrates that it is possible to make a high quality portable player using a top DAC chip for a reasonable price. 

HiFiMan HM-901 is also featuring the Sabre ES9018 DAC chip - in fact two of them. This player is on the market in Asia, but still not internationally. 

I think the review makes the impression that the Astell & Kern portable players are the best portable players available today, but in fact people who have heard the AK100 and AK120 say they are clearly inferior to the DX100 and also the HM-901. The FiiO X3 is just below these two in terms of sound quality. 

I hope you take this as it was intended: to help you – and perhaps also to make some correction of the article in order to make it more credible. As it is now, it seems like there is lacking research and knowledge about the portable player market - in my opinion. 

Best regards,

Lars Harrekilde

 

 

 

 

iBasso DX100 Digital Audio Payer (DAP) and HiFiMan HM801 (right)

both offer high resolution digital replay like the Astell&Kern AK120,

says Lars Harrekilde. 

 

 

Thanks for the update Lars. I’m sure readers will be interested by the alternatives you quote, but whilst your descriptions are detailed there are many points I would challenge. 

What seems to have upset you and John Calderbank (below) is the suggestion this is the only high resolution digital player available, but the review did not say that. I apologise if it gave that impression. 

Most portables are low resolution, and I was alluding to this larger rump of the market. Specifically, most portables, bar a few you mention, support 24/48 WAV replay maximum data rate (2.3Mbps), and use headphone driver chips in which low current consumption that maximises battery life, together with low cost, take precedence. Sound quality is not a priority, because these players will be used with heavily compressed files, MP3 and the like.

There are other high resolution portables on the worldwide market as you point out, but we don’t list all alternative products in our reviews and are unlikely to do so for many reasons; it was a review, not a listing. 

This is a UK based magazine and we focus mainly upon products that have UK distributorship and are backed by Britain’s Sale of Goods act, so purchasers are protected by the law. In the case of Astell&Kern, Air Audio, on a stand next to us at the Bristol Show, are well known. If you knew what I know about the shenanigans in some overseas companies who set up and then disappear, you would appreciate the importance of our focus on products that are locally supported, rather than just available.

The statement you find misleading about use of Wolfson DACs you go on to confirm by stating only one other player barely on the market has them. The Wolfson DAC used by iRiver can handle DSD, which is why I specifically mentioned it, since this allows the AK100/120 to play DSD at a later date. The issue was not that it has a high-end DAC.

Now let me cover some specific technical points you raise. The internal line voltage (14.8V) of the HiFiMan HM-801 does not automatically give it greater output swing. The output stage used and design factors such as maximum current draw and power dissipated are all issues. 

The use of line driver chips on these players, rather than headphone driver chips on most others, is more about low output impedance, coupled with low noise and high dynamic range than it is about sheer voltage swing. The headphone output of the Astell&Kern players uses line drivers, so it can be connected to a hi-fi through its headphone output. Try this through a headphone driver chip and you’ll get poor sound quality, due to excessive noise and distortion. Measurement shows 95dB or so dynamic range from a typical headphone output, whilst the AK120 has 115dB dynamic range, a significant 20dB advantage.

Finally, as the AK120 was not released until mid May there would be very little time for anyone to compare it with another player, so I am sceptical about claims for other players superiority at your time of writing in early June. 

It was our ability to measure the  AK120's dynamic range that persuaded iRiver of Korea to give Hi-Fi World exclusive review of the AK120. It is a technology led company run by ex-Samsung people and having met them, including CEO Henry Park, at the High End Show of this year I realise why their players are so good. 

It is helpful for readers to know there are other high resolution players out there, but it remains the case that until we measure and review them, claims for their superiority remain just that. We will try and get them in for review, however, and I accept players like the iBasso look serious. Our Rohde&Schwarz UPV analyser and our listening tests will find out.

Whether they are a sensible purchase, according to geographical location and local distributorship (or lack of) is another issue, raised below. NK

 

EVIDENT BIAS

I read your AK120 article with interest, but was disappointed by your extremely evident bias.You elected to make no mention whatsoever of other high-end digital players such as iBasso’s DX100/HDP-R10 or HiFiMan’s HM-901, both players with exceptionally good sound quality within their market sector – and direct competitors to the AK120. Is this because iRiver/Astell&Kern are advertisers on your site, whereas iBasso & HiFi-Man are not?

     You may have your general readership convinced that the AK100/AK120 are without competition but for those of us who know the high-end digital player sector well, your blatant bias casts your magazine in a very bad light, and that is a pity because I have respected your magazine, on the full size domestic hi-fi side of things, for almost two decades.

Sincerely,

John Calderbank

 

 

 

Make sure your AK120 player is switched on first, or it won't

appear on your iMac as memory. 

 

 

 

As I mention above, this was a review of a specific player, not a listing of all players. We don’t list all alternative products worldwide in reviews – and this really isn’t bias. NK

 

USEFUL AS A DAC

I have just re-read your article on the Astell&Kern AK120. I purchased

one of these last week; it arrived on Monday. Yesterday I wrote to iRiver

to make my observation that it did not transfer data from our computer (iMac, 10.8.4); I do not expect a reply. Claims for the wonders of this machine, based on computer audio, are therefore false. It is useful as a DAC for our DVD player, nothing else.

Yours faithfully, 

C. Paul Barreira,

Oakbank, 

South Australia

 

Hi Paul. I have had no trouble transferring data from a Mac running Snow Leopard or Lion (10.8.3) operating systems, with an AK100 and an AK120. Reviewer Rafael Todes has had no difficulties either. Since the player is seen by the Mac as removable memory I don’t imagine that Mountain Lion (10.8.4) will have any problem. You must switch the player on first, then it appears as memory on the desktop and music files can be saved to it in the same way as any other data to memory. 

You do not say where you bought the player. If from an importer, then they should be the first point of contact, as Australia likely has similar consumer protection laws to Britain. If it is faulty then they should swap it. If you bought it from an overseas trader, perhaps lured by price, then you must contact that trader, but don't hold your breath waiting for a reply.

I will forward your complaint to both the UK distributor and iRiver in Korea, for comment. 

Once you get over these teething issues you’ll find that the wonders are valid, not false! NK

 

Michael Osborn of Air Audio Distribution, Astell&Kern's UK distributor says -

There are a couple of things this customer could try himself and then if he still has a problem, he should get in touch with the Dealer he bought the unit from for further help and advice.  The Astell and Kern players do work with Mac operating systems.  Firstly, make sure the battery is fully charged then re-boot the AK120 software by holding down the on/off button and the top button on the side panel for 7 seconds; then re-check if the AK120 is ‘seen’ by the Mac as a removable device.  

If this does not work, there might be a ‘bug’ in the software on his AK120.  He could try connecting to a friend's Windows based PC and checking if it is ‘seen’.  If it is, he could go to the iRiver Astell and Kern web site and download the AK120 firmware, ‘drop’ it into the player and try again with his Mac.  

If these procedures fail to get the unit ‘talking’ to his Mac, there may be some other connection fault or software issue that needs rectifying and a conversation with his Dealer is necessary. It could even be the connecting lead at fault.

Talking of Astell and Kern firmware, I would like to confirm the estimated dates for significant feature enhancements for both Astell and Kern players, on or about the following dates:   AK100 Gap-less play 18th June;  AK100 USB-DAC 27th June; and AK120  USB-DAC 14th June; DSD playback 15th July.’  

 

LOVELY LEAK AMPLIFIERS

I’ve just finished reading Haden Boardman’s piece about the Leak EL84 amplifiers (Feb 2013 issue). I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with his view that their stock circuits and sound are a “bit rubbish”. But for now that’s by the by:  we’re all entitled to our views.

Mr Boardman did think better of the earlier Leak TL/12 Point One though, famous for being the first widely available amp to deliver just 0.1% distortion. However he went on to say by modern standards, I have yet to find a Leak TL/12 Point One that actually manages this. 

I just couldn’t let this sorry state of affairs continue. So here, to put Mr B’s mind at rest, are my two TL/12s set up on my kitchen worktop and connected to some relatively modern test equipment. They’re running at 1kHz and 10W, Leak’s specified test point and both are delivering less than 0.1% distortion + noise.

The audio analyser (HP8903A) shows that the better of the two is managing 0.077%. The scale on the spectrum analyser (HP3561A) is too fine to read in the photo. But the large vertical divisions represent 10dB and the second harmonic is nearly 7 divisions - in fact 69dB - below the fundamental. The third harmonic is a further 6dB down. All the higher harmonics are negligible. The other amp has a second harmonic level of -70dB, essentially the same as the first one. But in this case the third harmonic is at -64dB which explains why this amps distortion + noise is 0.092%. Its still within the 0.1% specification though.

The trick for restoring the amps to their as-new performance was to concentrate on the resistors. Many of these are Erie ceramic-bodied carbon compositions and it’s well-known that these will often have drifted high in value and developed significant noise over the 60 years or so since they were made. 

What’s less well-known is that they can also have become non-linear. If this has happened to one which is in a critical circuit position then it can easily push the amps distortion level well above 0.1%.

For the sake of authenticity I have restored my amps using only the resistor types that they were originally supplied with. I had to sort through quite a few Erie carbon comps before I found enough which still worked like new. But having done so my amps are now proof that Harold Leak really could deliver on his promises. Oh, and they sound lovely too!

Best regards,

Graeme Hirst

 

 

 

 

Leak TL12 amplifier under test, the Hewlett Packard 8903A analyser showing 0.0765% distortion, whilst the Hewlett Packard HP3561A spectrum analyser (top) shows it is primarily second harmonic in nature. Not bad for such a venerable old amplifier, proof of Leak's claims, the reason they sound gorgeous – and why they now fetch big prices! 

 

Hi Graeme. Thanks for your letter, and in particular for the carefully staged picture showing an HP8903B and HP3561A in action – both great analysers we use today.

I agree with your sentiment that “a bit rubbish” is over-exaggerated and they were never quite this, but I hope the rest of the piece was interesting.

The difference between renovation and restoration is rarely made. Most people renovate with new components I believe. Finding and using original parts strikes me as a challenge. Are electrolytics a problem? Do you have a source of New Old Stock, or do you use your own scavenged parts? True restoration, including its merits, is rarely talked about. The amps look lovely, by the way. NK

 

Yes, finding and using original parts is indeed a challenge. It’s just about possible with resistors, although you may well have to accept some compromise in performance. I suspect I could improve the less good amp, at least to the standard of the better one, if I was prepared to use new metal film resistors. But I prefer to stick to originals if I can. 

This is often impossible with capacitors though. I used new replacement caps throughout these amps, with two exceptions. The 1n0’s in the feedback paths were originally TCC films. These had both drifted quite a long way. I replaced them with Mullard mustards which are still widely available, excellent performers and contemporary with at least the later TL/12.1s. 

The smoothing block in one amp was still in good order so I left it that way. In the other I needed to re-stuff it and I used modern polypropylene film caps rather than PIOs. I couldn’t find any pre-canned PIOs that would have fitted and I felt that in the power supply, of all places, the impact on the amp’s sound of any change would be least. 

For the new caps I did try to use exactly the old technology. So I replaced the 0.25uF PIOs with 0.22uF ones from Jensen, who went to the trouble of selecting out high-value ones from their stock for me (and not charging me for this :-) ). All of mine are between 0.24uF and 0.25uF. The Jensen caps are also very similar in physical size to the originals.

The electrolytics are modern ones, chosen again to be roughly the right size. I didn’t like the look of the plastic sleeves so I stripped them off and re-labelled the caps using water-slide transfers before covering with transparent heat-shrink. They wouldn’t fool an expert for a moment. But at a glance I think they don’t look too bad (see attached pic).

Concerning the analysers, I actually own two 8903As which I bought as non-workers. So I have been inside them. In the end the problems were just with the power supplies and these were easy to fix, which is a good job since I’m less familiar with solid-state fault finding than with thermionics. However they looked like they would be very easy to work on. All the components are mounted on removable cards and there is sufficient room inside to get your fingers to where they’re needed. The only problem was that the plastic levers which are fitted to the cards to allow easy removal have embrittled, and the edge connectors have, over the years, got a tenacious grip of the cards themselves. So quite a few of the plastic levers snapped as I took the cards out to get to the psu wiring. 

Once the 8903As were fixed I cross-checked them against one another and found them to be in pleasing agreement. They also agreed well with the results from the 3561A which I bought from a dealer and which was working fine straight out of the box. I confess I haven’t been inside it nor do I have any plans to. At some stage I will set up a check of its performance using the high quality oscillators in the 8903As and some precision resistive dividers. But for now I have no reason to believe that it’s acting up. I only have one experience of working on a piece of kit like this. One busy week, in what was effectively an emergency, I had to replace the rare/expensive/ultra-low noiseRF mixer in the front end of an HP3585A at work. This analyser was enormous - 2 feet deep and 5U high in a 19” rack and weighing in at 40kg - and I swear when I got the lid off there wasn’t room to squeeze an extra Rizla paper inside it. Taking a soldering iron to it was pretty intimidating. I fear the same may be true of its little brother, so I’m going to let this sleeping dog lie.

The only issue I have with the analysers is the 8903As’ tendency to pick up low level noise. If I’m careful with the earthing (which I wasn’t for these tests incidentally), I keep other items with big power supplies at a reasonable distance (which I didn’t - the 3561A’s sitting on top !) and I switch off any nearby fluorescent lights (which I didn’t) then I can get their noise floor down so that the agreement with the 3561A is pretty good. But I’d always expect the distortion + noise number on the 8903As to be larger than the sum of the harmonics measurable on the 3561A, if only because the former instrument is designed to pick up all the noise (including, perhaps, even IM products between the test tone and the 100Hz HT ripple in the amps). The eagle-eyed will have noticed that in the figures I reported for the TL/12.1s the 8903A says they’re doing worse than the 3561A says. But at least the 8903A fails ‘safe’, reading high rather than low.

Best regards,

Graeme

 
 

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