May 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.




For great sound staging and wonderful sound quality get Tannoy DC10s.


Dave Mayer’s letter (Hi-Fi World, February 2011) encapsulates the fragile and transitory nature of hi-fi excellence. A box full of electronics can, quite by chance, take us to a higher musical plane. But as Mr Mayer’s letter shows, excellence and mediocrity are perched on a knife edge. The Surrey dealer mentioned in the letter would certainly have wanted to present his customer’s music in the most impressive manner possible. So top quality components matched with the utmost care, would have been selected. Hi-fi retailers are in business to make money after all, so they are going to pull out all the stops. Yet both the dealer and Mr. Mayer agreed that the slightly ageing Teac / Trivista pairing was a major improvement. A lucky piece of system synergy perhaps, but also testimony to the fact that both hi-fi retailing and purchasing are fraught with difficulties. Finding something adequate is easy : finding something really outstanding appears to take an awful lot of time, effort and money and not a little luck as well.

Subsequently, Dave Mayer’s Tri-Vista DAC was repaired and slightly modified by J.S Audio. A few small tweaks, with brand new ‘better’ components and suddenly the magic had evaporated. A coldly logical piece of technology which previously conjured art from thin air, now refused to respond to logic. A ghost in the machine? Audio circuit design as the new alchemy? Well maybe we shouldn’t be distracted by such fanciful notions, because the next bit of the story is much more interesting.

According to his letter, as soon as Dave Meyer told J.S Audio how he wanted the Tri-Vista to sound, they were able to modify it to achieve a magnificent result. So does this mean there was a misunderstanding to begin with? Does Mr. Meyer like something about the un-modded Tri-Vista’s sound which specialists J.S. Audio had either overlooked, or simply dismissed as unimportant?

People have different ideas about what constitutes good sound and that is all part of tailoring audio equipment for various customers. But problems occur when manufacturers and reviewers don’t define their particular ‘house style’. For example, a manufacturer might emphasise the blisteringly fast delivery of musical transients from their amplifier. However, the hidden sub-text is, ‘all that clout is at the expense of tonal accuracy, but we don’t think anyone would enjoy that anyway’. So the customer might audition a very expensive system and wonder why it leaves them cold. What they may not know is that the designer has already decided that some aspects of music reproduction - tonal accuracy or sound-staging for example - are simply not on the radar.

The problem is not that ‘good sound’ is subjective. It is more to do with the fact that some people haven’t been told that their sonic desires are irrelevant. This creates real difficulties for customers. Getting out to far flung dealers for lengthy auditions is very time consuming. It is a lot worse when the reviewer who gave your potential purchase five stars, hasn’t told you that he doesn’t share your sonic priorities.

A recent attempt to help people buy a decent system without too much fuss, is the return of the package deal. A carefully matched system from one source is currently on offer and best of all, it is good value for money. The gear has the seal of approval from a very experienced hi-fi journalist and I am sure some people will concur with his verdict that this is an excellent sounding system. Unfortunately, the old problem of lack of communication arises once again. Tucked away in one of the journalist’s previous articles is the revelation that the audiophile obsession with sound-staging is just a phase we all go through. It is a relic of the early days of stereo, with steam trains chuffing from one speaker to the other and according to him, doesn’t have much to do with our enjoyment of music.

I don’t share his views but that is not the issue. When this journalist reviewed the mail-order system, he didn’t announce that sound staging wasn’t a major priority to him. So we don’t actually know whether he assessed the equipment on the basis that poor imaging would be ignored. The fact is, sound staging is very important to many audiophiles. If they take the journalist’s advice to buy the system, any disappointment will be caused by an entirely avoidable break down in communication and not nebulous differences in sonic tastes.

Hi-Fi World has opened up the debate surrounding valves vs transistors, vinyl vs digital, speed vs musicality etc. This seems to have prompted many manufacturers to provide more fully rounded products. So perhaps the bad old days of prog rock loving manufacturers and reviewers refusing to acknowledge the undoubted charms of a tonally correct sackbut, are all but gone!

My idea of audio Nirvana is a cavernously deep soundstage. The front to back dimension of the soundscape is more important to me than almost any other aspect of hi-fi so I would be grateful for any advice you can offer. The system consists of a Sugden Masterclass pre / power (the older ‘Aztec’ fronted version, reviewed by Andy Grove when he was at Hi-Fi World), Sugden CD 21, Michelle Gyrodec SE, Origin Live Illustrious, Lyra Argo (i), IPL Acoustics S5TL transmission lines (93 dB), Hart ‘shunt feedback’ phono stage, Nordost Blue Heaven / CopperTech Alpha interconnects and Chord Rumour 4 bi-wired speaker cables. The listening room is 7m x 5.5 m x 2.3 m high. The speakers fire across the short axis.

The system images fairly well width-ways and the perceived image depth is about 4 feet, front to back. I am fairly certain that the soundstage depth is being limited by the speakers, as there is virtually no difference between CD or vinyl sources for image depth. When I first constructed the speakers the soundstage was nicely spaced out between the speakers, but completely flat. A hi-fi dealer suggested bringing the tweeters out about an inch to improve dispersion characteristics. The effect was immediate, with the image opening out to a perceived depth of about 4 feet. I experimented by bringing the tweeters (and mid-range) out further, but 4 foot was the maximum possible image depth. I have experimented extensively with speaker positioning / toe in, but the present set up is about the best I can get it. If you think new speakers would help (floor-standers please), I would like advice on the best ones for image depth - to the exclusion of all other factors if necessary.

The Mordaunt Short Performance 6s are very nice to look at, but I don’t know if they create a particularly deep soundstage. You reviewed some big Russian floor-standers, but I had difficulty finding the importer or retailer and am not sure if the Masterclass could handle the impedance curve. When Noel did the original review of the Triangle Antals I got the impression that the soundstage was substantial in both directions, but in his latest ‘30th Anniversary’ review there is no mention of depth. I have heard good things about KEF Reference floor-standers, but have no idea how older secondhand models would measure up to brand new expensive versions. Would any of the KEF Reference range be suitable? Other options might be Martin Logan or Quad electrostatics, but would the Sugden handle the current demands?

I like classical, opera, jazz, soul, with occasional bits of pop. The Sugden seems to handle most types of music very well, despite being only 50 watts a channel. I might be able to stretch to a budget of £3000, but would much prefer to buy the same thing secondhand for less than this. So a plentiful used supply might be an advantage.

Your thoughts please.

Best wishes,



Martin Logan's forthcoming Theos merges their fine X-Stat electrostatic panel with an unpowered bass cabinet.


Methinks you need big Tannoys Frankie, like DC10s, but they are right out of your budget. If you can, however, try to get a listen – then think about a bank loan! Yorkminsters may also work in your room, but this is a bit less certain as they do need a big space and 8-10m rooms (longest dimension). Second hand Tannoys are worth considering but their big Dual-Concentrics are popular and command high prices, and Tannoy have usefully improved the central mid/treble horn over the last few years, making it progressively smoother and more couth, so a recent model is best.


We await the Martin Logan Theos with eagerness. This uses their superb X-Stat electrostatic panel, atop an unpowered subwoofer, but it may need more power than your Sugden can raise. Sound staging will be superb though.


The ‘Russian’ floorstanders were the RRR FX100s and they were superb for their modest price of £1000. RRR is short for Rigonda Radio Riga and they are in fact Latvian (they were at pains to tell us!). We have not heard from them for some time but I am on the lookout.



The massive RRR FS100 from Rigonda Radio of Rega, Latvia - a massive loudspeaker with great bass.


Both Mordaunt Short and Creek make loudspeakers that sound-stage well, with a strong depth perspective, but as you are so tuned into this aspect I cannot be sure they would satiate your desire! KEF are introducing new models and they look very strong to me; I like KEF References.

I think it shameful any reviewer can ignore sound staging, but in the past there has been emphasis on pace and timing, plus dynamics at the expanse of all else. Unfortunately, these properties can be quite easily contrived – I know because I have done it when designing loudspeakers – and what you get is a highly specific type of delivery that suits Rock listeners who want a PA stack at home, but no one else.


The small conceptual difficulty total accuracy raises is that it appeals greatly to no one. It isn’t by definition as good as a loudspeaker tuned for narrow purpose, at least when used for that purpose (e.g. tuned for Rock and playing Rock). Yet I can take heart – well we all can! – because Quad’s ESL-57 is as self effacing as they come, but just look at its legendary status and wide following. On that note you could of course consider something like a One Thing tuned ESL-57; it suits your musical tastes. NK



The solution to John Drew’s problem of lifting and lowering the pickup arm on a bouncy suspended subchassis turntable (Letters, February 2011) is very simple. Cut a small block of rubber so that it just fits between the top of the turntable subchassis and the underside of the plinth top plate with 1mm clearance or so. Place the block on the subchassis in a convenient position as close as possible to the arm pillar, so that there is no contact when a record is playing but any movement brings the block into contact with the top plate and stops it moving any more. The result is a turntable which maintains the acoustic isolation of the suspended subchassis, yet is almost as bounce-free to cue as a solid plinth model.

While on the subject of tweaks, maybe those who still use old SME 3009 pickup arms should investigate the idea of packing mastic between the cartridge body and the headshell. SME used to recommend this in the arm’s final years of production and supplied a suitable material, which was said to improve the sound considerably.

Finally (honestly!), for those who have followed the Denon 103/ Expert Paratrace stylus saga, I have discovered that although tracking is perfect at the 1.8-2.0g recommended by Expert Stylus, increasing this to 2.2g gives better tonal balance, removing the last traces of brightness and ‘glare’ from the sound. I suspect that in Adam Smith’s old Empire 598 turntable, the sound could be disturbingly good.

Yours sincerely,

Alasdair Beal



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