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September 2013 issue

 

World mail  September 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.

 
 
Acer Aspire laptop with Intel i5 processor, price around £400. Terry Catlin fitted a computer like this one with a Solid-State Drive to purpose it for music replay. 
 
 

GNORE IT!

I write in response to Noel Keywood’s advice to Geoff Egginton (Left Behind, July edition) not to use a computer for audio playback. I would urge Geoff to ignore this advice and dip a toe in computer audio and judge for himself. 

A properly set-up computer is capable of fabulous sound quality and you can get started for very little financial outlay, unlike buying an expensive streamer, which is, as far as I am aware, basically a computer with hi-fi bits added and a silly little screen. After all, most homes now have a computer of some description already and if you DIY you won’t be locked into a manufacturer. 

Download the tutorial ‘dCS Guide to Computer Audio’ by the wonderful people at – naturally – dCS. What they don’t know about computer audio isn’t worth knowing. Once the PC is configured correctly I would recommend Geoff purchase the J River Media Centre v18 for playback of his music for about £33, this being a terrific player program with a super interface. 

He could rip (copy) his CDs using the program dbpoweramp, about £25, and store these along with any hi-res downloads on any high speed USB storage device. You could go down the NAS route at a later stage if desired, although this is not on my radar. 

I presently use a 1TB external hard drive, backed up to another, connected to my laptop via a Chord SilverPlus USB cable and another from laptop to my Preamp/DAC. So far, so cheap, so simple. 

The biggest outlay will be for a separate DAC with an asynchronous USB input. A world class DAC can now be bought for a little over £400. 

A little tip from the manufacturer AMR: download the free program ‘Fidelizer’ – this will close down all applications in Windows that are not relevant for music playback and runs in the background whilst you are using the computer for audio. 

I now use a dedicated laptop for my music, an Acer with Intel i5 processor and have changed the internal hard drive for a lightning fast SSD drive. There is nothing on this laptop other than the J River and Fidelizer programs – no internet, no spyware, nothing. KIS(S). 

I, like Geoff, have been into hi-fi/music for more than forty years and am no computer geek, just get a younger person to help (thanks son). Join Computeraudiophile.com for any help and guidance. This is now my only source component and used with high quality hi-fi stuff – I wouldn’t go back and it can only get better. My high specced Linn Sondek went to someone in Beijing and my ‘high end’ Wadia CD player hasn’t been used for the best part of a year. The house computer gets plugged in for internet radio – I can recommend Radio Paradise – and Spotify (free and great for listening to an album prior to purchasing). Go for it Geoff. 

Terry Catlin

 

 

Here's an alternative to a laptop, an Astell&Kern AK100. It's a high resolution

digital player that's portable and works solely from flash memory, 96GBs of it.

The screen is smaller than a laptop and there is no internet connection, but it

costs £550 and plays highest resolution 24/192 digital through an internal Wolfson

DAC, feeding either headphones or hi-fi.

 

Ouch. Great letter Terry, practical and very helpful – if critical! I can’t help but note a few things though. 

Most obviously, you are using a dedicated computer, an Acer laptop, as a source. Add in the SSD drive and the price isn’t so far off a dedicated hi-fi component, much above the Logitech Squeezebox – and you still lack a DAC. 

There is no big cost benefit here and you are faced with wrestling the computer to do something it wasn’t designed for. This means getting into computer religion, bypassed in your case by getting someone else to do the donkey work (that’s what sons are for – perhaps!). You have used Fidelizer to tame the computer, bought an SSD drive to speed up digital delivery and, of course, have had to remove intrusive anti-virus software. 

If you run the computer from a tethered mains supply, you’ll be injecting unwanted toot from a cheap outboard Switch Mode power supply; all computers have ‘em and audio avoids ‘em, because they generate a lot of high frequency switching rubbish that degrades the sound by reducing dynamic range. 

Charge the laptop’s batteries then disconnect the mains supply and, all of a sudden, the laptop becomes a silent source, ignoring RF from its high data rate/high frequency digital circuits. I’ve done this to research ripping from a laptop and found it does improve the quality of rips. 

If, alternatively, you transfer downloads from computer to a high-quality memory stick and then play them from a high-quality player, like a Naim NAC-N 172 XS pre-amp or Aune S1 media player (£550), of the sort you criticise as too expensive, this is a simpler, more elegant path that avoids the need for computer tweaking – and in fact the whole subject of ‘computer audio’. 

However, I do see that a battery-powered laptop with SSD and nice, bright display is easier to use in the home than a media player with a tiny screen on the other side of the lounge, so readers may like to try it, and may prefer it. But at the same time it doesn’t have the functionality of the players I have mentioned, and probably not the sound quality.  

Yet another solution, that I think tops them all, is an Astell&Kern AK100 high-resolution portable player. You can copy music to this, carry it around and play it anywhere, through a hi-fi or headphones. It’s a fraction of the size of your laptop, lower price and has an on-board Wolfson DAC. The SSD you use is replaced by 32GB on-board memory and two 32GB micro-SD card plug-ins offering 96GB in all. 

Digital music is part of a fast evolving consumer environment in which fiddling with home computers to make them do something they were not designed for is on the way out. But a purpose-tuned laptop has its attractions all the same, so thanks for the frank advice! NK

 

MIGHTY MONTIS

OK, I’ve decided it’s Martin Logan electrostatics for me. My musical tastes are mostly in the Americana / Roots / singer-songwriter genre and the (previous range) electrostatics I’ve heard (SL3, Aerius) sound fantastic. 

That’ s the easy bit! But which one? The Summit X is out of my range, but is there a significant difference to be heard by a passionate but Joe Average punter like me between models from the Theos, Ethos and Montis that warrants the price differences? (by the way, what about the previous range Spire? Any 2nd hand ones around?  And what would be a reasonable price to pay?). 

Can you also guide me with regard to amplification? I’d like help with a shortlist of, say, three valve and three solid state set-ups (pre/power and/or integrated) that are sympathetic to my musical tastes through the electrostatic sound. I’m leaning heavily towards a valve set-up, but, depending on what you think, would not discount solid state (or a mix of the two?). 

I reckon on spending up to £5000 (less, if you think there are any worthwhile candidates, but a bit more if you really think it significant!). 

Whilst visiting my daughter in London a few weeks ago, I called into a well respected hi-fi shop in Marylebone to do a bit of reconnaissance. The very pleasant sales rep was adamant that the Montis speakers were the ones and suggested either the Jadis I-35 Integrated or Krell S-550i. Any thoughts on these?  

Finally, a CD player. I’ve no idea other than to say my budget would be somewhere between £2,000-£3,000. (again, perhaps a bit more if there is a significant candidate).

My room is 27 x 16 with a wooden floor but we may be downsizing in a couple of years. Can you say what you’d regard as a minimum room size to do justice to, say, the Montis?

Many thanks for whatever advice you can offer.

Alan Peatfield  

Diss, 

Norfolk

 

 

Martin Logan is for me, says Alan Peatfield. But which one? This is the Montis,

£9800 and with an 11.2in wide XStat panel.

 

 

 

A new valve amplifier from Audio Research. Try it with the Martin Logan

Montis loudspeakera, we suggest.

 

 

Hi Alan. Let me compare the models you quote first. 

The Theos uses a 44in x 9.2in XStat panel atop a passive bass bin housing an 8in bass unit in a small cabinet with downward firing port. Crossover between box and panel is quoted at 425Hz. I heard the Theos and didn’t like it, because the box audibly colours the sound and bass quality was thoroughly average. For such an expensive loudspeaker I felt the bass bin was an afterthought; it is relatively easy to produce a tidy sounding small box loudspeaker that delivers clean bass and lower midband. The Theos box didn’t manage this, it wasn’t a match for the high quality XStat panel sitting above and crossover between the two was obvious. Perhaps this is why Martin Logan put Theos in the ESL Series, rather than the premium Reserve ESL Series. So that eliminates the Theos!

The Ethos uses the same 44in x 9.2in XStat panel, but atop a powered subwoofer that has adjustable output, crossing over lower down at 340Hz. I liked the Ethos and you can find our review on the website. However, it squeezes a lot of bass from a small box and you can hear energy in the box coming back out through the bass cone as delayed sound that blurs bass timing and slows things down. I felt I could acclimatise to this and live with it (turning down bass helped) but Rafael said cellos were lagging the main orchestra and wasn’t having any of it! The XStat panel is nothing other than superb though, a complete revelation and worth compromising for. I also felt the Ethos had very strong upper treble even though it doesn’t peak; a valve amp would help ameliorate this. 

The Montis significantly uses a wider 44in x 11.3in XStat panel that moves more air and runs lower, down to 340Hz, so it covers more of the audio band. It also uses a 10in powered bass unit, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing, as it simply puts more energy into a small cabinet unable to contain it. Bass can be turned down though, and with Martin Logans this is usually necessary, as the company make much of reaching down to very low frequencies using a small cabinet, but this hardly ever works. The reason is as output is extended downward using active equalisation, and amplifier power increased to raise bass level, distortion rises substantially from around 3% to 15% and delayed output goes through the roof, our measurements show. Bass quality suffers, becoming heavy and ponderous.  You cannot easily kick against the physics of a small box; try it and the box bites back!

The bigger Montis panel is to die for. But, bearing in mind my observations about small subwoofers, go for a demo before you decide. Take plenty of bass heavy music you know well and compare the two. Also, be prepared to adjust bass level if you are unhappy with the sound balance. The bigger panel of the Montis will sound smoother and fuller bodied, and the bass bin a tad less obvious. The Ethos, however, may well sound a little brighter and more incisive.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Summit X uses two bass units, lessening the load on each, and Martin Logan have devised a clever system to get the bass monopole to slowly become a dipole at higher frequencies to smooth the crossover transition to a 44in x 11.3in panel that they push down to a low 270Hz. By studying a higher model like this you can see what Martin Logan see as deficiencies in the lower models, namely Montis and Ethos, allowing you to go to a demo forewarned. 

On room matching and placement, I have not found Martin Logans too sensitive. Rear output from the electrostatic panel can be lost down the room and into soft wall hangings, like a patterned rug. Bass level can be adjusted. They do need some space behind of course – one metre minimum with rugs on the wall – especially the bigger ones that run the dipole lower. 

I say “rugs on the wall” but you can alternatively hang dedicated absorbers (acoustic foam) or diffusers (hard panels with irregular surfaces), and you can even try egg boxes! These diffuse and absorb and are worth a quick try when experimenting to see what sort of improvement you can achieve. Yes, they are ugly, but can be cloth covered. 

I mention all this as much to warn that big electrostatic dipoles are amazing loudspeakers but your room may need a little treatment to get the most from them. I don’t recommend Martin Logans are used in a hard, reflective room. I don’t recommend older Martin Logans; the panels were very directional.

As you will be spending quite a lot on partnering amps I suggest you try to see if home demos are possible before you buy the speakers. 

By all means try Krell, but also Audio Research. Valve amps are a better subjective match I feel and they better handle the capacitive load of an electrostatic panel. But listen for yourself: differences between transistor and valve become very clear with electrostatics.

Other amps to try are the new Quad Elite QMP monoblocks that are powerful, super smooth but very sophisticated in their sound, and suitable for electrostatics. Also consider Icon Audio valve amplifiers, including a new stereo integrated due out soon that uses 845s. A Creek Destiny 2 is worth hearing too. 

You don’t need a lot of power, 40W - 100W will do, because big Martin Logans are sensitive, and bass is handled by an on-board Class D amplifier.  

I can’t decide which of the big Martin Logans you should choose but I hope all this helps you make the correct choice and also get the most from them in your home. They are a very special loudspeaker and probably what I would take to my grave with me, if I could fit them in! 

NK

 

1970s NOOB

I recently bought an amp/tuner and tape deck. They are made by Panasonic and are the SU 2700 amp, the ST 2700L tuner, and stereo cassette deck model 619. They are probably not what some of you guys are used to classing as hi-fi but I am on a limited budget and also have a fondness for retro technology and therefore was looking for something in brushed aluminium that had a 70s/early-80s look to it and would produce some good sound while giving me an experience of listening to music that I enjoyed during those times listening to stuff like Deep Purple, Rainbow and Van Halen at my cousin’s house.

I used to have some gear of my own, mainly a NEC turntable and some obscure branded amp/tuner/tapedeck that went by the name of Cap10, but I always longed for stuff like my cousin had, Sansui, Marantz, Rotel and Pioneer. Anyway, as I sit here I am wondering if you can give any advice as to a good book that will cover the basics, e.g. hooking up equalisers, separate phono stages plus all the associated lingo. There does not seem to be a dummies guide as such. I have ordered a bluffers guide as I have read them on other subjects and they seem very informing.

 

 

Pioneer PL12D turntable – a 1970s classic that has taken the fancy of Paul Blute.

 

Also, are there any forums or websites which deal with retro affordable systems and components like the ones I have bought. There seem to be a lot selling in these prices and I would be interested to find out more about these systems and discuss them with like-minded enthusiasts. 

Ideally, when my finances are more settled I would like to get my new purchases looked over by the local chap in Torquay who does this sort of stuff. They are supposed to be in great condition, the only thing being a non-working lamp in one meter on the amp. I think I have seen one on the net replaced with a blue LED and thought this might look appealing. 

So there you have it, any help you could give me and point me in the direction of books and sites/forums would be gratefully received.

I bought the June 2013 magazine today for the first time after looking at it in W.H. Smith and seeing the World Classics section. The Pioneer PL12D you have listed has taken my fancy if I could get one at a similar price. 

I do not have speakers yet but will be looking around the second hand haunts and eBay while I await the arrival of my new toys. 

Best wishes and thanks...

Paul Blute

 

 

If you can't find a Pioneer PL12D then perhaps a Goldring GR1 will do.

The Rega arm is better than the 12D's tube, but otherwise the GR1 was a

tad basic, shall we say!

 

Hi Paul.  Fingers crossed your system will work when it arrives. I suggest you buy decent interconnect cables, to hook up the tuner and cassette deck to the amp. Also, buy some good budget loudspeaker cables, rather than using what may come with the equipment. Old products had lousy connectors and cables, even if the circuits worked well. 

Oh – and mechanical parts such as switches and volume controls were well below today’s standards too. There’s not so much you can do about this, but a good repair man may be able to help you out with dodgy switches etc. 

The cassette deck will need to have its head cleaned at least. You can buy a head cleaning kit or use isopropyl alcohol applied with ear buds. If there is obvious wow then new belts may need to be fitted and this could be expensive. If pre-recorded tapes sound dull, head azimuth will probably need adjustment – not difficult, but a job for someone who knows what they are doing. Use TDK D, AD or AR tapes to record.

Get a decent pair of loudspeakers, hook up and enjoy. You can of course buy a CD player that will hook up to the SU 2700 without difficulty and bring you into the modern age!  

The Pioneer PL12D was a great turntable, nice and simple to use and it did the job. Today’s equivalent is a Rega, the P3/24 (£575) being a nice unit if likely above your budget, except second hand. 

Fit a budget Goldring 1006 (£150) or a 1012GX (£235) if you can afford it. 

Don’t forget the simple Goldring GR1 turntable too; it’s basic but has a good Rega arm and this does sound better than the old resonant tubular arms of 1970s turntables, including the PL12D.

Scout around for those LP collections people throw away and you’ll be in hi-fi heaven, at minimal cost. NK

 

TAPE TEASER

I have just purchased the June, 2013 edition of Hi-Fi World, and am flattered that you decided to publish my letter concerning he use of Magix Audio Cleaning Lab software in the context of converting vinyl and cassette recordings to digital format. I do hope that the content will be of some interest to your readership.  

The purpose of this further letter is to seek your expert advice concerning a couple of upgrades, which I am considering making to my current hi-fi system, which consists of full Michell Gyrodec, SME IV arm, Dynavector DV-20X high output moving coil cartridge, Audion triode Silver Night phono stage, Crimson 610 pre-amp with a pair of Crimson 640D monoblocks, Meridian 588 24-bit CD player, and Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor speakers. I have linked the pre-amp tape line-in/line-out to a QED 3-way tape switching unit to incorporate Revox B77 MkII reel to reel, Sony MDS-JB940 mini-disc (also for archiving cassette tapes), and my Acer M3400 PC. Speaker cables are Chord Carnival, and interconnects are an assortment, including DNM ribbons.  

I have been considering purchasing the new Crimson 710/640E pre-power combination for amplification, but even with the trade-in offered against my existing Crimson units, the net upgrade cost to me will be in excess of 5,000, and I am reluctant to go down that road without giving the matter deeper thought! 

I would prefer to think in terms of an upgrade budget for amplification in the region of 3,500-4,000, and wonder what pre/power combination, or integrated solution you might recommend within these figures, not forgetting that any pre-amp stage will require tape line-in and out to accommodate my QED unit. I know that you are keen advocates of valve amplification, but I would prefer to stick with solid state options.  

In addition, I am pondering upgrading the Meridian 588 possibly instead of, or as well as, purchasing new amplifiers. Again, what is your opinion of the Meridian player, and if it is to be replaced, what would you suggest?  Or would it be best for me to retain all my existing kit, and improve all interconnects and speaker cables? I’m confused!  My tastes in music include easy listening and classical vocals, modern and traditional jazz, folk, blues, classical instrumental and orchestral generally, no rock!  

I have always been interested to read the views of your team of experts on matters pertaining to upgrades, and I am hoping that they will be able to offer me some much needed advice as to how I might proceed. 

John Boyd 

Nottingham

 

 

If you want to use tape decks, like John Boyd, then a Creek Destiny

amplifier is a good choice. 

 

Your tape loop requirement makes preamp selection difficult. Tapes disappeared a long time ago and the whole idea of recording anything is history it seems, quashed by music industry interests. Few preamps now have tape loop outputs/inputs. A Leema Acoustics Pyxis is an exception and it also has much else that would suit your system. In conjunction with a Leema Hydra II, a combo we tested in the July 2011 issue, this pairing looks perfect, but possibly at the limits of your budget. Arcam have their C31, with two tape loops no less, and a much lower price tag.

Preamps can make or break a system in a subtly subversive way: put a poor preamp in front of a good power amp and the combo will die. Conversely, a good preamp is a godsend, and one of the best ever – no discussion or argument! – is the Music First Audio Classic transformer preamp. But although I think you need one of these at your level of sensitivity and appreciation it is difficult to accommodate into your complex system where a tape loop is required. 

I suspect you will need a preamp with a gain of at least x5 (14dB) to cope with the Silver Knight phono stage. So although I recommend the Classic as an ultimate preamp, whether it will suit you is questionable.

The simplest and probably best solution is to buy a Creek Destiny 2 amplifier. This has a lovely big- hearted, easy-going sound and is powerful, easily able to drive your Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor loudspeakers. It has switchable preamp gain to match in the phono stage and a buffered tape loop, no less. Since you use a valve phono stage you will like the sound of the Destiny 2 I believe and at £1800 it suits your budget as well. 

It’s becoming difficult to recommend CD players nowadays, with high-resolution digital upon us. This issue contains two interesting possibilities, the Prima Luna ProLogue Premium CD player that absolutely would suit you, with its SuperTubeClock, but the price might not! The Teac UD-501 DAC can do it all however – even play DSD digital. How can you not look closely at a DAC like this? It will handle CD of course; just hook up your Meridian 588 with a digital cable and use it as a transport. 

I hope this provides you with some good ideas. NK

 

ROCK CLOCK

As I have improved my vinyl record player, its sound has increasingly left CD in the shade. There was nothing obviously wrong with the sound from my Rotel RCD-951 CD player: the highs were crisp and high, the lows were deep and low and there was no audible distortion ... but somehow it was sterile to listen to. The flow and naturalness of the sound from vinyl was missing and after listening to one CD I usually got bored and put a record on instead. However, I was wary that shopping around for a new player to solve the problem might prove difficult and costly.

I then found websites from Trichord, Net Audio and others which offered to improve the sound from existing CD players by upgrading the internal clock to reduce jitter. After some thought and research, I bought a ‘RockClock’ from Net Audio and installed it in the RCD-951. The tricky bit was working out the connections and where to fit it in, as the Rotel has a slim, well-filled case (it ended up on top of the IC it connects to, in order to keep the connecting wires short). However, Net Audio’s proprietor David Pritchard was helpful and once the details were worked out it did not take long to remove the old clock components and install the RockClock. Then I turned on the CD player, found that it still worked (phew!) and played some discs.

Somehow, installing the RockClock has quietly transformed the Rotel’s sound. The obvious stuff (tonal balance, treble, bass, distortion) hasn’t changed but somehow everything else in between just sounds clearer and more natural. Voices sound much more authentic, the sound of an orchestra swells to fill the room and when Nick Drake picks his guitar on the CD ‘Pink Moon’, his finger movements on the strings no longer sound like ‘hi-fi’ squeaks - they sound real. Everything simply sounds more natural than previously. Instead of becoming bored after one CD, I can happily listen for a whole evening – and it seems like ‘listening to music’ rather than ‘listening to CDs’.

In my system the RockClock has closed the gap between vinyl and CD to the point where, although the former is still better, the latter is now an acceptable and useful alternative. The results of the upgrade appear to support Noel Keywood’s view that jitter is the Achilles heel of CD reproduction. The RockClock has breathed new life into my old CD player and (in simple listening pleasure) lifted its performance to a whole new level – and all for a mere £95. It suggests that the upgrading of CD player clocks is an area well worth investigating

Best wishes,

Alasdair Beal

 

 

The heavily screened Rock Clock 3. Fitting a new Rock Clock to a Rotel

CD player made "everything simply sound more natural" says Alasdair Beal.

 

Great stuff Alasdair!  I think most of us have found that lessening jitter audibly improves the sound in a subtle but aurally important way. Imaging sharpens and stabilises, there is less of a sense of fuzz in the sound and even bass can improve, when clock wander is eliminated. Ripping CDs commonly improves their sound when the digital stream is re-clocked, a process that often (if not always) reduces jitter. I’ve been experimenting with ripping CD to see how far such improvement goes and there’s no doubt it does make the sound more amenable, as you have found. 

Unfortunately, better clocking on replay, either in the CD player or after it, doesn’t eliminate timing error from the recording process, so the improvements only go so far and depend upon the quality of the recording. This is true of all digital. 

CD is also afflicted with quantisation noise that subtly coarsens the sound and limits deep detailing – 24bit recordings avoid this, sounding smoother, ‘darker’ and generally more svelte. So jitter isn’t the only blight! 

Fitting a CD player with a new clock is a bold move and perhaps not for everyone, but your experiences are illuminating. NK

 

DUTCH DILEMMA

You guys are driving me nuts. Not only you, but all hi-fi magazines. Love to read all of them through but prefer your letters section. I want to make a point and would like to ask you for some insight, but first I’ll introduce myself / hi-fi. As a born Dutch living in Portugal and working in Spain I am in the fortunate position to have two sets of hi-fi pleasure. In Madrid I do have a Home Theatre set-up but stereo is most important. Rotel pre/processor, Primare DVD30, Rotel 6 channel amp bridged to 3 channel. The rest is Dutch: Van Medevoort PA333 power amps and Van Medevoort DD6.5 sealed box monitors with two mid/bass configuration (one internally) and Van den Hul cabling. Very happy with this but I think the Rotel pre and the apartment are the constraints. 

In Portugal I’ve composed a minimal setup: ADAM A5 active loudspeakers, BMC-2 DAC and monitor control, Onkyo dock/digital transport and Rotel DVD995 for CD (DVD part broke). I am very happy with the detail but noise level (a ssshhhh when volume is up) and lack of scale bother me. It is a very small room of max 15m2 with all thin plaster walls except one thick outside wall out of rocks (yeah really; rocks in cement) with a window, wooden floor with directly a cellar below and a high ceiling close to 3m.

Why do I tell you all this? Well I would like insight on how to fully upgrade my set in Portugal. I can mix things from Madrid, buy something, save and buy the following but honestly I don’t know what to do first or which direction to go. That’s why you make me crazy because bad products are hardly manufactured anymore. 5 stars here and 4 stars there make it difficult to select a short list. That is my point. Can’t we introduce a 6th star or downgrade the value of the stars. 

Anyhow, I selected some favourites which can take me in any direction. Main objective for me is to gain scale and dynamics (some energy boost) with a low-end as taut as possible in my small room and add streaming. A sweeter delivery would also be nice. I need to upgrade in steps and total budget is not fixed. And good performance at low listening levels at night is a pre.

Products of my interest: 

Loudspeakers : PMC twenty 21, 22, 23 (I wonder if the 23 goes too low), Guru Q10, Guru Junior, ProAc 115, KEF LS50, KEF R300, MAD1920, JBL Studio 530, Neat Petit.

Equipment : Roksan Caspian M2, Icon Audio LA4, Icon Audio passive pre amp, Naim N172XS, Cambridge AudioStream Magic 6, Van Medevoort MA260 int. amp with DAC, Hegel100, Onkyo P3000R, MF M1CLiC, Pioneer N50, Naim Unitilite.

Do you have any suggestions? What would you do? Thanks a million in advance and keep the magazine printed! Please make sure Lisbon Airport has enough copies.

Kind regards, 

Derrick Swart

 

 

A small room in Portugal would go nicely with a small loudspeaker from

the UK, the KEF LS50. It should make a Dutchman living in Spain happy,

even if we remain confused!

 

 

The 15m2 room needs either large stand mounters or small floor standers designed for use against a wall. Although it is possible to get deep bass in a small room it is easiest done with a subwoofer that can be positioned and adjusted for level. Big floor standers usually over-excite a small room, producing boomy bass. KEF’s Q500 small floor stander  is likely to suit or their Q300 stand mounter. The LS50 you mention is also very popular and highly regarded, and would suit your room. Equally the MAD1920 would be a good choice, as it is carefully designed to sound good in small-ish rooms. 

A small room needs little power and Naim’s Unitilite would probably be ideal, if you want to move into the modern age, whilst retaining CD playback. NK

 

START STREAMING

I thought I would share with your readers my experience of setting up an entry level streaming system. Having had my Naim NAP180 serviced and changed to Avondale 845 boards in my NAC 72, I added a Teddy Pardo power supply to the NAC72 and another one to my Arcam rDAC. The change wrought on the NAC 72 was instantaneous! The legendary hiss vanished, leaving, as Teddy himself describes, an inky blackness. For speakers I use Dynaudio Focus 30s.

I bought an ex-office PC (£100) and rebuilt it with Linux Mint 14. For those unfamiliar with Linux, it’s a genuine alternative to Microsoft ‘bloatware’ and runs, by my estimate, five times faster than Windows. And, if you’re mean enough not to make a voluntary contribution to the Linux developers, it’s free. 

I then added a 3TB external drive (£90) to the Linux media PC. Please note you don’t have to be a technical expert to setup Linux and the community that supports it is very helpful. The media PC doesn’t require a screen, a keyboard or a mouse, after it’s set up. 

Once networked I ran a CAT5 cable to my media box (Philips HMP5000 £50) and shared the external hard drive, that holds my 600 films and 1,000 ripped CDs. 

I added two Powerline adaptors (£30), one of which is sited in my daughter’s bedroom, so that she too can access all the media content, via a Seagate media box (£50). Powerline adaptors use the house ring main as a network and don’t require any configuration. With my existing wireless router, I can also access the content from any of the other two Linux machines that I have. 

So, my total outlay for streaming to two locations was £320, assuming you already own a DAC. I am utterly delighted with not only the sound quality, but also the convenience that this set-up allows. Maybe it will inspire your other readers to have a go!

Regards,

Paul Margey

 

Yet another alternative in the great computer scheme of things. And a very good one too Paul, at least for inveterate computer geeks. Curious how all the free stuff, like Open Office and Linux, actually works better than anything you can buy. It’s a topsy-turvy world out there! NK

 

Choose a Naim Unitilite if you want a modern doo-dah that does it all: play CD,

amplify, get internet radio, play computer music, play a memory stick...

 

NEW ICON

Here are a few impressions of the new Icon Audio LA5 pre-amplifier that we received about a month ago. We just bought it on spec, having not heard it, but were confident that it would come up with the goods. And of course we were right... David Shaw has done it again, and then some. 

The 845s and LA4 were brilliant, the CDXI and PS3 were brilliant, but the LA5 is spellbinding. The music produced by the LA5 has got all the usual credentials of top end hi-fi and more, much more. Crescendos made us catch our breath in amazement; the romance assaulted our hearts. This is magical, a real dream machine.

This of course is after a long and tedious running in, and with Psvane CV181 valves fitted. It started out sounding something like an old LA4 with an Eton education and it gradually improved until what was coming out of the speakers started to sound extraordinary. We were beginning to feel the music a microsecond before our brains registered the sound. The sound had gone to new levels of emotional expression. We just sat in front of it and every now and again when one of us said did you hear that, invariably a bemused ...yeah... was the only reply. This machine plays emotion - the music is a commentary.

The LA5 makes a scintillating harmony of sound, revealing all the emotions in the music and of the musicians with a transcendental precision which is breathtaking. From the moment we turned it on we were transfixed, whether it was playing rock, jazz, or classical, there were qualities we had never heard before with any system.

Best wishes

James & Cath Gould

 

 

The new Icon Audio LA5 preamplifier "makes a scintillating harmony of

sound, revealing all the emotions in the music and of the musicians with a

transcendental precision which is breathtaking" say James and Cath and Gould.

 

Hmmm... seems you like it!  Those 845s are great valves sound quality wise and as you say David Shaw of Icon Audio does get the best from them – and all else it seems. Glad you like the LA5 preamplifier. Readers might be interested to know that Icon Audio are working on an integrated amplifier using 845s, a prototype being on display at the Manchester Show this year. NK

 

MORE ORDINARY

I too consider myself to be ordinary, if ordinary can be attributed to anyone who has spent 40 years listening to and buying hi-fi equipment in order to hear music. However I was intrigued by Stephen Sharp’s letter. If he is a music lover rather than a hi-fi collector then listening contently through his system, as he says he does, should be the end of the story. Yet he seems to decry paying for equipment which would allow him to listen to his music with more realism.

Of course a £6,500 cable will not sound 100 times better (if indeed that could be measured) than a £65 cable. We all know that hi-fi prices follow the law of diminishing returns. But it will (or should, if chosen with care) sound immeasurably better providing the accompanying system is of similar quality. I truly believe that if you look and buy with care and know what you want to achieve you do get what you pay for. I have never used an expert’s opinion to buy equipment, only my ears.

Let me explain further. I was very fortunate a decade ago to be able to spend, what is to me, a lot of money on upgrading my system. After months of listening and auditioning I moved from a Linn Sondek/Rega/Sumiko front end, AVI preamp and ATC 50 speakers to the dizzy hi-fi heights of an SPJ La Luce record deck with Van den Hul Condor cartridge amplified and cabled entirely by LFD products into Rockport Merak/Sheritan speakers. In retail prices this was easily a 15-fold increase over my previous system. However, everything was purchased second hand which resulted in it being only a 5 fold increase. The point is I now have the best system for my ears I could find for the money. I believe it represents phenomenal value. I now listen to my music and am carried into another world whereas before I was always in my living room straining to hear the music through the hi-fi. I wonder exactly to what equipment Stephen has been listening if he has never heard the difference he seems to crave.

As for low cost improvements, I do those too. I recently wired in a dedicated consumer unit, spurs and unswitched power sockets for my hi-fi at a cost of less than £100 for materials. The result was an immediate satisfying improvement.

There is no end to this hi-fi game unless you choose there to be one. Stephen has, and so have I. But knowing and accepting that further possibilities are there is, I find, quite exciting. In the meantime I’ll enjoy the music.

Nigel Smith 

Bristol

 

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