April 2011 issue

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World Mail    April 2011 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.



The BBC re-discover good sound quality. You can now find an HD audio link on the Radio 3 website, Philip Postings tells us.



At last someone at the BBC has admitted that listening to Radio 3 on FM beats DAB and is almost as good as so-called 'HD radio'. In the Radio Times of 1-7 January this year, Doctor Digital, who answers readers’ 'tech questions', was asked: “I’ve heard Radio 3 can now be accessed in higher-quality audio. How do I tune in?”

The good Doctor answered: “To hear Radio 3 in ‘HD Sound’, you need to listen via the station’s website: The new stream uses a sampling rate of 320 kb/s, as opposed to the normal 128 kb/s, giving you a superior quality of sound to the one you’ll have heard if you’ve listened online before. The HD stream will also sound better than DAB radio – although if you listen to Radio 3 on FM, you won’t notice much benefit.”

He adds: “There’s also not much point in streaming the HD version of the station if you’re using your laptop, or standard, small computer speakers – try good-quality headphones to hear the extra clarity and detail in the sound, or wire your computer up to your stereo system.”

Let’s hope that, having let the digital cat out of the bag, Doctor Digital doesn’t find himself 'terminated' by the higher-ups at the Beeb.

Philip Postings




I heard the Martin Logan CLSs the first time in the late eighties and decided that I would buy a pair as soon as I could afford them, which happened about ten years later. Since then I have been the happy owner of the following system: Martin Logan CLSIIz, Copland CSA 28 amp, Copland CDA 266 CD, Musical Fidelity X-Plora tuner, and Rega P5 with Denon DL103 (uh-oh) cartridge and Rega Fono. I spin too little vinyl these days so main source is CD.

A couple of years back I added a pair of Velodyne DD-10 active subs that are connected directly to the speaker terminals of the amp. I found this a worthwhile addition but (at least) two subs are needed for decent integration with the electrostatics. I think this rather has to do with the radiation pattern of the subs versus the stats, than stereo information in the bass.

Cables are Van den Hul First (CD to amp), Kimber (amp to CLSs), and Transparent Audio Lab (amp to subs).

The music that I play on the system is pop and rock (from Rolling Stones to Sugababes to Grace Jones to Fun Loving Criminals to Trentemoller) and my children's music. The latter can, btw, be surprisingly well-recorded at times.

I like the system as it is, so the only real problem is that I’ve got money to burn.




How do I drive a Martin Logan CLS electrostatic loudspeaker, asks Jesper?


The CLSs are fantastic musical machines with killer transparency and almost 3D sound. But they are very challenging to feed. Quality watts are needed. They do, however, work surprisingly well with my modest hybrid Copland amp. The synergy between these two components is probably the main reason why the system sounds as good as it does. But clearly there are better amps out there. It is claimed that with the lights dimmed, Pinot Noir in the glass, and the ‘right’ tube amp driving the CLSs, God can be seen in the room. I have not yet seen Odin in our living room, so my question is: what would that right tube amp be? Icon Audio MB845? In that case, what would be a good matching preamp?

How about something as outrageous as the Kronzillas? Given my experience with Copland gear, I could try the CTA 405. Various Chinese tube amps have also been suggested to me. Both could be a step up but probably not the “ultimate”.


As for CD, I’ve tried the new Copland CDA 825 and was quite impressed by it. What would be your suggestion for a matching CD? And cables?

There is no real budget for these upgrades except for “close to within reason”. I would rather spend a bit more to get the right stuff than do stepwise upgrades.




Get a Yamaha CDS300 with front mounted USB port to play FLAC files, says David.


Another question: I recently scooped up a Musical Fidelity A1, which, as you point out in your World Classic, is a great little amp of questionable reliability. I have heard that Musical Fidelity offers to sort it out, at a price of course, £400 to be precise. Do you have any experience with this service? I’ve heard the A1 with the CLSs and even though it struggled a bit it was pretty good. Would the A1 work with a set of older big Tannoys in a back-up system?

I would very much appreciate your advice on these questions.

Best regards,

Jesper Andreasen Daneland


Oh what a problem you have Jesper. Too much money to spend! That’s a slightly unusual place you are coming from but it does open up a lot of possibilities.

On the amplifier front you have to use a powerful, well designed all-valve amplifier with a loudspeaker as good as a CLS and here it is either a Quad II-eighty, designed by the redoubtable Tim de Paravicini, or an Icon Audio MB845 MkII designed by David Shaw. Both have oodles of power and fantastic sound quality. The latter is more muscular than the former, but KT88s have more sparkly treble than 845s and it really would be up to you to decide here. Don't be tempted to use any old valve amp; the ones I recommend have super quality output transformers.


For preamplification use a Music First Audio transformer preamp, like the Classic v2 we reviewed in the March 11 issue. It has one of the purest sounds I have ever heard and will suit electrostatics.


I have not heard the Kronzillas, only seen them and quaked! Do by all means listen if you can; they are unavailable in the UK.


A set of Tannoys as a backup huh? Big Tannoys are a world of their own and quite an extraordinary experience when run properly. There are prerequisites though. You need a big room, longer than 6 metres and more like 10 metres if possible. This is so the room is tuned below the loudspeakers, which are themselves tuned very low due to their huge cones and vast cabinets. Then you will experience ultimate bass quality, because Tannoys are very well engineered and deadly accurate too and they can move a room like no other loudspeaker I have heard. They need pathetically little power and although the A1 would suit in a simple sense, a Single Ended valve amplifier is really required – you will plainly hear the difference. Transistors are a big no-no with Tannoys and I have heard some horrible examples of this.

Then there is the issue of running in. If you demo a Tannoy make sure it is properly run in. Westminster Royal SEs take ten months to settle I am told, although I had no great problem with smaller Yorkminsters.


Under the right conditions Tannoys will bring a grin to your face like no other; they are deeply impressive in a way everyone appreciates. You just need a big house, a deaf wife and no neighbours. NK


In your question I can see my own personal plight; trying to find that perfect blend of tube sweetness and liquidity allied to real thump from solid-state, to drive a superb but power hungry pair of speakers which are notoriously revealing of their source! What's the answer then? Well, as Noel intimates, you're talking Quad II-eighties or Icon MB845 MkIIs. I'd go towards the latter here, thanks to their creamier, silkier sound; the Quads can sound a little more 'brusque', even if they are a bit punchier. The alternative we're highly familiar with is the Musical Fidelity AMS100 Class A stereo power amplifier. This has a knife-through-butter quality, able to incise through the mix to get down to the deepest detail. It's also very tight in the bass, and powerful too. Still, brilliant as it is, I can't help wanting to go back to valves; but then when I go back to valves, I miss the studied precision of the Musical Fidelity...


As for a CD source, there's so much choice for you. What's your budget? Meridian's G08.2 I auditioned last month is a great way to spend £2,500, with a liquid and musical sound. But then there's even more detail and dynamics and emotion available in Electrocompaniet's EMP-1/S (£4,600), which gives a truly captivating digital disc delivery, bristling with the sort of realism only normally heard from a top high end turntable. If it's £7.500 you want to spend, then plug the dCS Debussy into your Copland and be amazed by the scale, smoothness and dimensionality of one of the best DACs ever made. Sometimes having a decent budget creates more problems than it solves!


If you like your new (old) Musical Fidelity A1, and feel it works very well in the context of your system, then that's a great way in to making your mind up about your next amplifier; the A1 is like an AMS100 that's 'shrunk in the wash'! The Musical Fidelity factory service is very worthwhile doing on more expensive machinery, but it could represent a little too much for your humble A1. If you intend to keep it and enjoy it at its best, then it's a great thing to do - but it's a lot of money to spend on something if it's just going to go back in the loft! The A1 would work well with the Tannoys, as it's low powered but high quality; the Tannoys are very sensitive, which effectively removes the main drawback of the A1, allowing it to shine. DP



Dear Hi-Fi World Boffins. Do you know of any devices that will play hi-fi quality audio from FLAC files stored on an external USB drive? All I can find so far are very expensive wireless networking multi-room systems such as Sonos, Opus, etc. or the Brennan JB7 which is very neat but will not play FLAC files. Nearly there are the very inexpensive little media players made by Western Digital and others that take a USB drive as input but then need to use a TV to browse the content. I don’t want to have to turn the TV on in order to play music, in much the same way as I’d rather not have to turn on my PC, hence the desire for a dedicated device. Any suggestions?


Duncan Batey


You're right, Duncan, there are loads of devices that do this, but when the operative word is 'high quality' we seem to run into trouble. Basically, the cheapest solution is probably going to be buying one of the latest generation of budget CD players, such as the Yamaha CDS300 or Teac CD-P650 which have front mounted USB sockets - expect to pay around £200-ish for these. DP



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