December 2010 issue

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World Mail    December 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.




Tannoy DC-8. "I can confirm they are a lovely 'speaker", says John Hurley.



Thank you for the speaker recommendations for my Cyrus 7 set-up in the August edition. I have auditioned your recommendation of a Tannoy DC8 and can confirm that they are a lovely speaker. I even sourced an ex-demo pair from one of your advertisers for only a little above my budget.

However, in search of David’s cable recommendation I happened into Audio T in Cardiff. Mentioning my problem, they suggested I try the new Castle Knight speakers. They had a pair of Knight 5s, as reviewed by Noel in the October edition, on demo with Cyrus source and amplification in a room similar to mine so I had a quick listen. I found the bass and treble far too fulsome for my tastes but was assured that the stand mount Knight 2 had a different voicing and was the pick of the range.

Back in Cheltenham I arranged to listen to the Knight 2 at the local branch. I admit that I did not have very high hopes, but was immediately impressed by a sonorous quality which gives body to piano, strings and woodwind, a relaxed midband and the very even progression from mid to treble. This I attribute to different cone materials (not the aluminum of my Monitor Audio GR 8s) rather than warmth. The sound was not identical to the old Castles (which I found rather lifeless) but reminded me a little of a pair of large KEF Reference stand mounts I had temporary custody of in the early 1980s.

In a room 50% longer than mine and on the end of Naim amplification bass seemed a bit excessive and a touch woolly, although it improved with grill on and bungs in ports. I thought that what David described as the “dry and over precise” approach of the Cyrus equipment might tame this and so arranged a home demonstration.

Audition at home confirmed the strengths noted before and added new ones. Bass was now well balanced and tuneful and imaging was excellent. A major strength is the ability to play soft and loud without losing the character of the music. With my Monitor Audios there is an optimum volume for each recording (even for each track) - a narrow aperture between dull and in your face which is sometimes too loud. The Castles on the other hand are very even handed with source material and volume setting, and quite dynamic at all volumes, which my wife appreciates strongly as she prefers to listen at lower levels than I do.

This might suggest a degree of loudness contouring but this does not seem to be the case. A frequency sweep test tone from a hi-fi test record showed a very even perceived progression in my room. The only very minor drops in perceived volume were at precisely those points where speaker/ room resonances set in - certain high notes of the female voice and violin. Either this is extremely fortuitous or Peter Comeau is a genius.

There were of course losses as well as gains. The speakers are apparently slightly less detailed than the MAs though this may be a result of their evenness. Detail is still there, but is not spotlighted in the same manner. Bass is fuller and musical, it very easy to follow bass guitar or double bass for example, but not quite as fast. The upper midband and treble sweetens some voices and instruments a shade too much, Kate Westbrook’s voice lacking the underlying rasp I am familiar with from live performance. Brass too is very slightly softened with the merest hint of a quacky colouration. But a sweeter upper mid and treble is one of the things I was seeking so this is an acceptable compromise. The only serious casualty is harpsichord which on one record sounds more like a child’s toy piano, missing the authentic clang which metal domes give. But this is at least in part recording related and mostly harpsichord is just a little less precise.

The Knights are not in the same league as the Tannoys but given the price difference they would not be. I would not say they are better than my MAs but they are different in a way that suits my room and amplification better. The real wood veneer cabinet construction is almost as good as my MAs. At half the price I paid eight years ago for the MAs they are a bargain and I have bought them. I hope you find space to review them in a future edition because the Knight 2s offer a real alternative to the dominant sound of speakers.

Dr John Hurley


Thank you John - it's good to hear someone espousing the good old 'try before you buy' approach, allied to some careful system matching! So there you go - not a single mention of you buying a recommended 'fave rave' product online at a discount and then having to sell it three weeks later at a loss because it sounded rubbish in your system! DP



It was the March 2009 issue that brought me to the idea of complementing my EAR 8L6 with a suitable preamp. That issue of Hi-Fi World features a test of the EAR 868PL preamp complemented with the EAR 890 power amp. Your review was quite enthusiastic about the dazzling speed, the delicious intricacy, transparency. These are audio properties I recognise from my 8L6, which has a beautiful transparency in itself. Could providing it with a suitable preamp lead to further sonic improvement?

My original system (mentioned in my letter in the November 2009 issue of HFW) consists of a EAR 8L6 integrated valve amplifier with Music Hall CD transport and DAC, connected via Nordost Frey and Silver Shadow. Loudspeakers are EdMa modified Phonar Veritas 5.5 biwired via Nordost Frey to the EAR.

In the meantime, I had found out that the pre section of the 8L6 is actually passive and consists only of the attenuator and the selector switch. Because the 8L6 has the advantage that pre and main section can be decoupled, turning it into a pure Class A push-pull valve power amplifier, I was willing to test run some preamps. It has to be said that I was rather sceptical, for I could not imagine that adding extra components in the signal path could bring me any sonic improvement. Very much like Noel claims in his column less is more in the same November 2009 issue. On the other hand, if this were true, why would Tim de Paravicini bother making separate active preamps anyway? Fortunately, besides a sceptic I’m also a scientist and so I’m open to new insights.

My first idea was to try the EAR 868L, following Noel’s review. But as it happens, my good friend and high end guru, Edwin Maas (Edma) from the Netherlands, who builds, modifies and improves high end gear starting from, amongst others, Audio Note kits, had a preamp ready for testing and so we did somewhere last April. Edwin also brought along a modified Audio Note 2.1 Level C DAC, to compare it with my Music Hall DAC 25.2, which I thought was performing nicely.

The first thing Edwin got rid of, after hearing my setup, were my very expensive Nordost Frey interlinks and the evenly expensive Nordost Silver Shadow digital link. He replaced them with, equally expensive, self made solid core silver, silk insulated cable, featuring rhodium plated, Inakustik RCA plugs soldered with Audio Note Silver. It turned out that although the Nordost was fine with respect to sonic detail, the soundstage was somehow unnaturally split into left and right. Also the sound was a tad too airy, a bit like the air on top of the mount Everest. The silver core cable brought back coherence and musicality without losing any detail, bien au contraire! Surely, this was the consequence of a poor impedance matching issue for which only my inexperience was to blame (surely not the Nordost company).




Rudy Deblieck's neat looking system with EAR valve amplifier at top.

Anyway, with this set straight, Edwin coupled in the preamp and much to my amazement and stupefaction the effect on sound quality was huge. A wealth of extra resolution on an inky black background became audible. So, adding the preamp to my setup had really improved the sound. As a scientist I tried to explain this by an analogy with an electron microscope, where the quality of the pre-magnification by the objective lens is critical to the final resolution. Leaving the objective lens out (emulating the analogy of a passive preamp) will not improve the image, quite the contrary.

The sound was already hugely improved and I should have been happy, were it not that Edwin suggested to me to also try his modified Audio Note DAC. So it was done and the sound improved further with a clearly wider and a more focused sound stage, with more depth. The tonality also became much more musical, analog like and lost quite some digital hardness. This digital hardness I originally attributed to room reverberations and the sonic character of my very revealing Phonars. With the digital hardness replaced by a svelte, well resolved midband, I could start hearing the small nuances in the timbre of different instruments.

Needless to say, I was lost and in love and I had to have this Edwin Maas modified Audio Note gear. Being a really good friend, Edwin built the preamp and the DAC combination for a friend’s price which allowed me to acquire both at the same time, although it was still quite a drain on my finances so shortly after acquiring a new setup (less than a year ago), for high end components are not really cheap.

Currently, I am the proud owner of a beguiling sounding setup that is continuously improved as Edwin comes up with more or less affordable upgrades such as internal silver wiring, high end potentiometer, audio grade Vishay resistors in critical places (these perform even better than the famous AN tantalum resistors), a modified preamp valve, higher end audio grade capacitors in critical places and so on...

The very nice thing about this is that now I am able to upgrade my sound by spending amounts of the order of 200 to 500 Euro without having to sell former equipment and acquire new stuff at full high end prices.

Needless to say that I became very fond of the effortless, natural, organic sound that comes out of my upgraded setup that is obviously the product of good old UK based engineering, by the Tim de Paravicini and Audio Note, lovingly modified by my good friend Edwin Maas.

Rudy Deblieck




Thanks for that Rudy – another interesting epistle. Rafael Todes just phoned me and we ended up talking about the sound of (Danish) Jensen capacitors and how good / beguiling they are. I see you are going the same way. In the end the science has to take a back seat to the experience. I’m glad you are enjoying it. NK



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