October 2010 issue

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World Mail    October 2010 issue        


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Your experts are -

DP David Price, editor; NK Noel Keywood, publisher; PR Paul Rigby, reviewer; TB Tony Bolton, reviewer; RT Rafael Todes, reviewer (Allegri String Quartet); AS Adam Smith, reviewer; DC Dave Cawley, Sound Hi-Fi, World Design, etc.




Upgrade the CD player and consider the ever so svelte Cyrus CD8se player to go with Icon Audio valve amplifiers, says Noel



Having caught the hi-fi bug a number of years ago I purchased the Rotel RA O4 amplifier (I’m a tight Yorkshireman and refused to pay an extra hundred quid for the model up with a remote control), a Rotel RA 06 CD player, B&W 684 speakers with Atlas interconnects and ten quid-a-metre bi-wire speaker cable.

Having had a serious operation in November last year I had a good number of months to contemplate upgrading. I have always wanted to try valves as everything I read about them seemed to be right up my listening street. I live in the cold wastelands of Northern England and auditioning valves would have meant a three or four hundred mile round trip.

Having had a pay rise and scraped some money together I decided to treat myself to the Icon Audio Stereo 40 Mark 3 with upgraded KT 88 valves. I bought the amplifier direct from Icon Audio and I have to say they are a marvellous company to deal with. I had a few problems which, with me being a valve virgin, they dealt with promptly and they even gave me an upgrade on the KT 88 valve free of charge. It’s fantastic to see a company that has a prompt, effective and friendly after care service and don’t just take your money and run. A really big thank you to David Shaw, the MD of Icon Audio for personally dealing with my insanely stupid questions.

I play the amplifier through the Rotel CD player, a Musical Fidelity V DAC, Chord Interconnects and B&W ‘speakers. The music I listen to varies from Northern Soul to Alt Country leaving out Pop, Rap, Classical and Opera. I particularly like to listen to 60s and 70s Soul and I only have CD as a source.

My question is, I have no clue which piece of kit to upgrade next, the Rotel CD player or the B&W speakers (or both). I rarely listen at high volumes but I do like a rich warm texture that kind of wraps itself around your head. I have probably around a thousand pounds for this upgrade. The room my kit is in is odd shaped, small and above everything the missus hates floorstanders, so a speaker upgrade would have to be a standmount. I don’t mind going second hand but would only buy from a reputable store (I don’t trust auction sites).

Another, and probably the most important pre requisite, is they have to be aesthetically pleasing to keep the little lady in some degree of happiness. I also have the Icon Audio headphone amp (which is also a single ended amplifier), that I use to play my laptop through. I use the B&W Zeppelin speaker, which gives a really nice sound. This has made me think about single-ended amplifiers, which then led me to look at single-ended integrated or valve monoblocks.

I am wondering if it would be best to trade in the integrated amplifier for the Icon Audio MB 25a monoblocks and keep the CD player and 'speakers, or look at the Separo 300B single-ended valve amp. Again, auditioning would be very difficult so I am flying as blind as I did with the Stereo 40.

I have to say though valves are everything and more than I expected and I am really pleased with the Icon and, it being a small British company makes it all the more sweeter.

Thanks a lot.

Mark Wilkinson

South Shields

Tyne & Wear


Hi Mark. I’m glad you are enjoying your Icon Audio amplifiers and have had a good experience. David Shaw has been designing for many years now and spends a lot of time in China with his suppliers, so the products are well developed and both sound good and measure well. I would not jump ship to a 9 Watt Single-Ended, quite frankly. SEs are very good when done properly but their transformers must support enormous flux levels because of the high standing d.c. current and it’s a difficult technology to get right. Most SEs are just soft and a little underwhelming I find. Also, you will run out of steam fast unless you use a sensitive loudspeaker, meaning a floorstander. We do say repeatedly that small loudspeakers are insensitive and do not suit low power amplifiers. Do by all means try an SE, but the step up over a good push-pull isn’t night and day, especially as you use a well honed amplifier. I would suggest you upgrade the CD player and consider the ever so svelte Cyrus CD8se. If you can possibly help it, do not move to stand mount loudspeakers as they demand more power and this will not help sound quality one iota. NK



Your mention of the Brennan JB7 Music Server in the May 2010 Mail section resurrected my thoughts on making my vinyl collection available for playing on digital portables and the creation of CD copies.

Currently the vinyl system is downstairs and the desktop computer is upstairs – and ne’er the twain shall meet [WAF!].

My thinking is that if I can transfer compact digital audio file copies [WAV - as on a standard compact disc] of the LP tracks on my vinyl to the desktop computer, then I can convert to MP3, AAC etc. to my heart's content before downloading to my digital portable, as well as making CD copies for my second system which does not have a turntable.

I have considered three options to achieving this objective:-

1. Using the Brennan JB7 Music Server

2. Using a second hand Compact Disc recorder [Pioneer PDR-609?]

3. Purchasing a second hand laptop [but with what software for Windows?] and using it with a Russ Andrews XITEL INport Deluxe USB Recording Soundcard or something similar.

Would all of the above achieve my objective and, if they do, are there any sonic advantages to choosing one option above the others?

It would not surprise me if you came up with some whizzy wireless means of transferring my vinyl direct to my desktop but my knowledge of digital wizardry is not great. Perhaps your magazine might consider the occasional article, updated as technology advances, on the ways of converting analogue to digital for old duffers such as myself.

Hoping that you can help and with my thanks in advance,

Wayne Allen



Sony MZ-RH1 Hi-MD portable recorder, little bigger than a MiniDisc and can record in uncompressed WAV format at 16bit/44.1kHz.


Another ‘how long’s a piece of string’ type query! The problem is, Wayne, I’m not sure about your domestic situation, and whether you can move your existing computer downstairs to do direct recording on to it, or if you’d even want to? If not, how much money have you got the throw at the problem?

Okay, let’s have a go! First, [1] I don’t think buying a Brennan would be particularly suitable, as you’re limited to its very average analogue to digital convertor, and recording formats (it doesn’t do AAC, for example, although does do WAV, so you could transcode via iTunes). [2] Yes, this is a good idea, inasmuch as it has a semi decent A-D convertor, and produces a CD that you can then digitally extract into a WAV (or compressed) file easily via iTunes, or suchlike. The only downside is that a Pioneer PDR-609 isn’t exactly portable. [3] You could indeed pick up a secondhand laptop, but this is both a pain (and risky, as is any secondhand computer purchase, in my view) and not ideal in sonic terms; the sort of cheap USB A-Ds around on your budget aren’t exactly amazing and certainly not as good as that of a Pioneer hi-fi CD recorder.

So, I’d counsel going for option [3], namely the CD recorder. However, think on this fourth possibility. It’s still possible to buy brand new Sony MZ-RH1 Hi-MD portables; these aren’t much bigger than a MiniDisc and can record in uncompressed WAV format at 16bit/44.1kHz. I know them to have fine quality analogue to digital convertors built in; they make excellent recordings. Spending £250 on one of these, to use for making portable digital recordings which you can then very easily take upstairs to your PC, is a good idea, methinks. Once you’ve made the recording, you can transfer it as a computer file at high speed (i.e. not real time) via USB to your computer, running Sony’s bundled Sonic Studio software. You can then edit the file, label it and transcode it to other formats; a super tool and likely just what you need. DP



I read with interest your column in the June 2010 issue. To jump to the nub of the issue, in my opinion as you increase sample rates and bit width, all you do is approximate the analogue signal. Therefore to accurately copy an analogue signal you would need an infinite sampling rate which is effectively analogue.

I feel the missed opportunity in recording was not keeping the audio signal analogue. Laserdisc technology was an analogue recording with digital technology controlling the read process. I am sure lasers could be used to replace styluses and track vinyl recordings with no wear on the grooves and as good as the best moving coil. Blue ray technology could be used to record and replay analogue music and side-step the problems of vinyl roar, wow, and non quantised noise.

To conclude, the way forward was a combination of technologies which keeps the music signal analogue while transport and reading technologies are controlled digitally.


William Bramer



The Finial laser turntable, extremely complex and disappointing too.


There was scope for modulating a high frequency carrier with baseband audio and transmitting and storing it on high density optical media, as Laservision did. But as lovely as high quality analogue systems sound, they are less flexible in terms of signal processing and more subject to degradation than digital systems.

Sadly, I found the Finial laser turntable was a very disappointing device. It sounded very transistory (i.e. flat and coarse) and read groove dirt and noise, as well as damage. It was not at all like a pickup cartridge and served to remind me that a moving coil cartridge is a perfect generator, with no active devices and almost no wire either! The stylus pushes dirt out of the way too. NK



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