February 2011 issue - Page 2

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February 2011 issue
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I use Bright Star Isonodes and they do make a noticeable difference. I was a bit concerned about using them between speakers and stands, I thought that they may make the speakers unstable so I e-mailed Bright Star who recommended using them under the speakers as the compress and there isn’t a problem with stability.

The CI headphone and power units with HD250s are excellent. When I first got them I played ‘Kind of Blue’  Miles Davis CD and got lost in the music - it was like being at a live performance. I got my LP12 fully funked and still an Ittok II with a Dynavector 10x5 cartridge and I now get a lot more music and detail from vinyl. I use Missing Link mains cables and interconnects for a neutral, clear and open sound.

My Naim NAC 32 and P160 I’ve had since new along with Harbeth HB MkII monitors. My room is 20’ x 13’ and I like a wide range of music. Vocals and acoustic and lead guitar sound good as do other individual instruments but I must admit the top end does tend to shriek at times and was it PR who described the old Naim sound as Technicolour mono?

I’d like your advice on how to improve the sound without losing the expression and emotion from the vocals and guitars. I do like the Naim sound. NK has said he has had success using valve preamps with Naim power amps so what do you think about an Icon PS 1, which I could use with the NAP160? Naim has suggested upgrading the preamp to a 102. Or maybe an integrated, the Nait XS perhaps? Any advice would be welcome. I have about £1400.

Steve Wright



An interesting hybrid: a Naim power amp driven by an Icon Audio valve phono stage.


Hi Steve. Much of the Naim sound comes from their preamps; they are precise but very analytical and somewhat cold in nature. The power amps are more open, lucid and powerful. Put a valve preamp in front of a Naim power amplifier and you end up with a surprisingly nice hybrid combo. I was quite taken aback by the synergy here. I would say an Icon Audio PS1 would be a fine choice, but be aware that early versions of this valve phono stage suffered rolled off treble at half volume, due to impedance mismatching betwixt the control and following internal circuitry. And whilst I find the PS1 a fine affordable stage, Rafael Todes (who plays violin in the Allegri String Quartet) insists the PS3 is the model with magic. I feel sure you will find the PS1 a fine choice for your system. Just bear in mind that if you have a really fine ear then the PS3 may be best. I hope that is not confusing. As always, do try and get an audition if possible. NK



I’ve bought The Virtual Haydn, a well-reviewed collection of disks. Unfortunately they’re Blu-ray, thus unplayable on my CD player. I wondered whether you could recommend a Blu-ray player which does not have to be part of a ‘home cinema’ system. I’d prefer not even to have a screen at all in the hi-fi room: just bung in the disk and play, as I do for CD, but I recognise this might not be possible so should be grateful if you would suggest a suitable screen to deal with the menus so I can play the audio disks.

With best wishes,

Jim Thorpe



Use Composire video output to view disc meus.


Hi Jim. That’s easy enough. Most Blu-ray players have a low quality Composite Video output, from a Yellow coloured phono socket. This can be fed to a cheap screen if you so wish, since most have a Composite input. Alternatively, you may want to get a modern computer screen or TV with an HDMI input, as most Blu-ray players have an HDMI output too (assuming you do not use this for audio).


You will need a screen to navigate Blu-ray menus, even those on music Blu-rays which sometimes have elaborate menu schemes.

A large, local electrical store may just have a cheap mini TV or such like, perhaps for a children’s bedroom, that will do the job. NK



Being a mite too enthusiastic, having recently set about refurbishing and slightly tweaking a nice old Thorens TD150 I bought in a car boot many years back for 12 quid, I “lashed out” and bought a nicely fettled SME 3009 Series II Improved arm to go on it!


Wise? foolish? Let me explain my motivation which is pivotal to my continuing interest in the sport of hi-fi. I remember a seminal moment in my hi-fi history, when I was about 12 or so (late 60s) when the son of my father’s colleague proudly showed me his Thorens and SME set up. Boy was I impressed. It looked and sounded amazing. The thing just exuded quality, and not a little mystery, a sort of gateway to something I didn’t quite understand, but which seemed thrilling and just “wow!”


Whilst I liked music at that age, I had no real concept of high fidelity – never mind stereo!  My music priorities were more focused on finding a steel lamppost to stand next to whilst tuning my prized, but very small and none to hi-fi, “tranny”, so I could pick up the pirates signal and get my fix of “underground” music (Radio Scotland 242 meters on the Medium Waveband was one fave.)


Anyway enough looking back, so what now? Well a Shure V15 Type 111 cartridge would seem to be the correct recipe. Well tradition suggests? However, being a solid Hi-Fi World reader of many years I just know you guys can give me the dependable, quality heads up (as long as you don’t tell me I should have gotten a Rega instead! I know you will appreciate my rose tinted motivation for the Thorens SME combo). Yes, tradition only goes so far, I still need to get the best from it. So what are my cartridge options with the SME/Thorens?


I am presently running Meridian 101 with 105 monoblocks on very short speaker cables into Gale 401as (some ESL57s are in the wings awaiting their own fettling too).

I listen to anything these days. My interest was underground/rock in the 60s but is pretty catholic now, from jazz to folk, rock, world, even including classical.

Thanks for listening.


Keep up the great mix of high end and practical end, and the occasional controversy. Always a great read even at the price I pay for it out here in Oz.


George Davidson,

Sydney, Australia



A blast from the past, Shure's M97Xe has a warm sound.



And thanks for your letter George. I always like to hear from Oz because it brings back good memories – a great place it is, especially when the UK is cold, wet and dark and I can recall the warmth. But on to hi-fi!


The SME 3009 Series II Improved is ‘ringy’ by today’s standards and really needs a smooth, easy going cartridge. I would suggest a Shure M97Xe, but this does have an obviously warm balance. Then there’s the ever lovely Goldring 1042, with its high compliance, great stylus and treble resolution and solid bass. Or finally there is the Ortofon 2M Black, a cartridge that is forensically accurate, clear and detailed. The Shure is ‘old school’ but smooth and easy on the ear. The other two are far more modern, the Goldring having more real zest as well as accuracy, whilst the Ortofon is a precision reproducer, with good dynamics and plenty of pace. Any of them will suit the dear old SME and give you a great retro deck. NK


Having fiddled around with cartridges in SME3009s, I'd say the aforementioned Goldring G1042 is the best partner – it's decently weighty at the bottom end, making up for the SME's somewhat lightweight bass a tad. Set it up carefully and it should sound smooth and musical. DP



I’ve been struggling for a few months to find a satisfactory upgrade path for my current system. I’d love views on what to consider.

My current system is: NAS Spacedeck with fully Origin modded RB250, Lyra Dorian, Tri-chord Dino (with power supply) and Heed power supply. Amplifier is Audio Research VSi55 and ‘speakers Reference 3A Dulcets (on Appollo AZ stands and some granite chopping boards). Using a Isotek mains block and mostly Transparent Audio cabling with Black Rhodium DCT speaker cables.


I feel that the Dino and my tonearm are the weak links currently. I love the combination of valvey texture and solid-state style grunt I get from the amp, but just want more. More richness in the midband, more solid bass, bit more definition in all areas.


My room is pretty small, 12ft x 13ft approx., and is carpeted but does have some rather spongey floor boards. Music tastes range from weird modern electronic stuff (dubstep and Detroit techno) to pretty straight 50’s bebop with a sideline in jazz funk, soul and even some soft rock.


I have a problem with distortion on very sharp sounds on modern vinyl. It only happens on 12s that are cut very fat (not sure what the technical term is here!) and tends to be drums that are worst affected. I’ve spent some time with my dealer trying to remedy this without much success – he reduced the level a bit but some of the same vinyl had similar issues even on their perfectly dialled system. Is this issue familiar?


So I’m tempted to put a second arm on the Spacedeck – an SME IV or maybe something from Origin – and run the Dorian on the new arm for top performance and use my existing arm with a more forgiving cartridge for the few troublesome 12s. Does this sound like a bad idea?

Would love to upgrade the phono stage to either Icon or Puresound valves but will this cost me much punch? Would also love to try the ANT Kora but can’t find a London area dealer who carries it. I have tried to listen to the Anatek MC1 but it had way too much gain for my system. I run the Dino on a low output MM setting although the high output MC setting is also suitable for most recordings.


I could find £2-3k for these upgrades and to address my distortion issue.

Any help appreciated.


Simon Wilden.


Big Macs have a powerful sound.


Hi Simon. Twelve inch, 45rpm singles are cut with enormous bass and you can see the huge groove excursions with the eye. It sounds like your Dorian is mistracking these cuts where groove amplitude is greatest. It managed 65µm in our tests, where 90µm is possible on disc with the sort of cuts you are playing. To track the highest excursions you will need a good quality Moving Magnet (MM) cartridge, although Moving Coils (MC) from the likes of Ortofon are also able to track high level bass cuts. Any Goldring or Nagaoka cartridge should stay in the groove and it strikes me a Goldring 1042 tracking at 1.8gms would suit. The arm you have is plenty good enough not to hinder any cartridge in this task, so an arm upgrade will help little, if at all.


Your Audio Research VSi55 tube amplifier is one of the punchiest available. The Quads (e.g. II-eighty) are also fast and clean and dynamic, whilst being more svelte, but they aren’t as brutal. Otherwise, valves go the other way, toward sounding liquid smooth and easy. That’s until you start using the big power triodes like the 845 and 211, then the issue becomes the output transformer. With a good one (read: big and very expensive) they’ll blast you across the room; solid-state doesn’t come close. But you are looking at big prices here. I suggest you try and get a listen, all the same. Alternatives are big McIntosh tube amps and more powerful Audio Research designs, but the latter in particular aren’t so subtle. Of course you may alleviate some of the symptoms by a bit a ‘tube rolling’, replacing the stock 6550s with premium versions, like those from Svetlana.

All-tube phono stages do not have solid-state ‘bite’, but they can have more heft at low frequencies. David will elaborate on your options. NK


Given that you're going to run your OL modded Rega, possibly with a Goldring G1042, as your 12" single arm, then you want a really tasty arm for your Dorian and a phono stage to match. The SME IV is just such a thing; Rafael Todes uses a V (same difference, almost!) on his SpaceDeck and loves it, although he's the first to admit it has a certain mechanical quality to the way it goes about making music. Other, more mellifluous options include the latest Origin Live Illustrious 3c, a fantastic all round pivoted arm, and the Audio Origami PU7, which is just as delightful but errs more towards the flowing, gentle unipivot sound.


As for phono stages, my instinct would be for the ANT Audio Kora 3T Ltd. The Icon Audio tube stages are lovely, and a touch more expansive and open in some respects, but less grippy in the bass, and slightly less propulsive too. Overall, with your Lyra, my instinct would be for the PU7/ANT Audio combo. DP



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