June 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.



A recent Mark Knopfler wonder, the 'Kill To Get Crimson'  LP has superb sound quality.



As an avid record collector, I’ve been thinking about the varying quality of recordings in general and how useful it would be to have some kind of guide to a particular recording and its sound quality. As the replay quality of my hi-fi increased, I found that so did the differences between good and bad recordings – to the point now where I try to limit my listening to the best quality recordings.


Yes, I know it should be all about the music, but my serious listening is through headphones and any bad recordings are brutally exposed so I leave the bad recordings to my laptop system which doesn’t highlight them so much.


For example, I bought The Cure’s 1989 LP ‘Disintegration’ when it came out, and on my old Hitachi stack system it sounded okay, but having played it recently on my Voyd / SME IV / Audio Note IQ3 / Pure Sound P10 / Sugden HeadMaster / Grado SR225s, the LP is just about unlistenable. The sound is shrill and compressed. I was tempted to buy a recently remastered version on vinyl but David’s idea that the original issue being best sounding is spot on and matches my experiences, so I couldn’t see how a remastered version would sound any better than the original.


Anyway, I digress. What would be really useful would be to know which recordings sound great. Perhaps readers could pitch in with their top ten recordings and over a period of time you could build up a database. I know it’s all subjective, but I’m working on the basic assumption that your readers know a good recording from a bad one.


To kick off then, here are some of my top recommended recordings based on sound quality (in no particular order):


Beatles – Abbey Road (first pressing) – a wonderful recording, deep deep lows, sweet highs, and a great soundstage.

Jean Michel Jarre – The Concerts in China – forget surround sound, this stereo mix will have you wondering where you hid those rear speakers.

Pink Floyd – The Wall – awesome dynamics and sound effects, plus great music of course.

Dire Straits – Love Over Gold – Worth buying purely for Telegraph Road and Private Investigations – a masterful recording.

Peter Gabriel – So / Us – forget the expensive Quiex reissues, they don’t sound any better than the originals.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue – I have the Quiex reissue, which is awesome.

Roxy Music – Avalon – a superb recording, just dripping with


Jacques Loussier – Plays Bach (number 3) – simple trio, well recorded.

Radiohead – In Rainbows – Nude is particularly special.

Depeche Mode – Violator – a seminal album and an amazing recording given it was 1990, when most pop recordings were awful.

Kraftwerk – Tour De France – most Kraftwerk stuff is recorded well, but this is special.

The Cure – Faith – great recording, pity things went downhill later on.


And the ones to avoid? Don’t get me started !!!

Laurence Robertson


Thanks for that list Laurence. I recognise and own many of them and agree with you about sound quality. I regularly spin the recent ‘Kill to Get Crimson’ LP from Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and it is another utterly superb transcription. Eleanor McEvoy LPs are also something special you will find. It’s great when musicians are into and properly understand the issues behind sound quality: the final result is heaven. NK


Great idea, Laurence. Watch this space for more on the difference between various vinyl pressings of the same album... DP



I’m hoping you can give me some advice regarding the most suitable cartridge that will be compatible with my system. I am using an Origin Live Sovereign turntable together with a Conqueror Mk 3 arm. The cartridge at present is a new Denon DL304. The phono stage is the Icon Audio PS3 upgraded with Jensen capacitors and NOS valves. I also use Mastersound 845 Final Monoblocks with a mastersound Line In Preamp, Wilson Benesch Chimera Loudspeakers with MIT Terminator Cables; all other interconnects are pure Silver. My CD Source is a McIntosh 1000 with the 1000 DAC.

I know my speakers are very revealing and at times a little forward with the treble so I’m looking for a cartridge with a warm presentation. I would appreciate any suggestions that you might have.

Peter Amor


Ortofon Cadenza Black lacks brightness or treble emphasis.



Hi Peter. Very few cartridges have a warm sound; most are the opposite: too bright. An old classic with a warm sound is Shure’s M97 xE, but it is a design from yesteryear that is a little bland by today’s standards. The only other cartridge that approaches a warm sound is Ortofon's Cadenza Black moving coil and this appears to be the best solution in the context of your system, albeit an expensive one. The Cadenza Black with Icon Audio PS3 phono stage are made for each other though, especially with those ‘dark’ sounding Jensen capacitors. NK


I'd counsel the Dynavector DV17D3 (£750); you don't specify your budget but I'd think this is the sort of sum you'd have in mind judging by the rest of your system. If you can spend twice this or more, then think about the Koetsu Red series. Both these Japanese cartridges are beautifully artisan made transducers with a 'classic' sound that's on the fruity side with a warm and rich tonality; they're not super forensic excavators of detail but are very musically satisfying all the same. The Koetsu adds just a touch more life and a certain romantic quality that's completely unknown elsewhere in the moving coil world. DP



Musical Fidelity's Trivista 21 responded well to being tuned, says Dave Mayer.



I would like to respond to the somewhat pointless comments contained in your April issues ‘letter of the month’. You kindly published my own original letter earlier this year (Re: upgraded Tri-Vista DAC21 etc). I think that ‘Frankie’ has missed the point and has got rather wrapped up in his own beliefs.

First things first. I can only speak as I find and the sound coming from my current system (including the brilliant upgraded Tri-vista DAC) is absolutely truly wonderful. I’m 44 years of age and first stepped into the minefield called hi-fi at 16 when I spent pretty much all that I had (£100) in Richer Sounds, Stockport, on a Sanyo/Wharfedale/Rotel set up. So for 28 years I’ve been desperately trying to reach a point where I think “wow – that sounds perfect”.

I’m at that point now. The final parts of my hi-fi jigsaw came in the shape of the heavily modified TRI -VISTA 21 done by JS Audio. I’m no electronics engineer and no hi-fi guru, I’m not an expert and I’m no boffin, but to these ears (and those of my over critical and cynical wife) it really sounds outstanding. It has also got even sweeter since the mods were carried out late last year.

Frankie did make a valid point regarding the type of ‘sound’ that I was after, but here the blame lies with me and not JS Audio. I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in the first place. However when I expressed disappointment in what they had done, (it wasn’t crap or worse than the original, it was just different and not to my taste) they pushed me much more on what I was after, what exactly I was looking for. I asked for a really detailed sound, erring towards analytical even, but also with the big soundstage advocated by Frankie and obviously on his ‘wish list’. And that is exactly what I got back. To be honest, it was better than I could have imagined, right from the first few hours of use I was amazed by the detail coming through.

To respond to Frankie’s comment about liking the original Tri-vista’s sound, then the answer is “yes I did”. I thought it was superb, but as my original letter stated, the unit had become faulty and needed repairing, hence the reason for contacting J.S. Audio. The opportunity to upgrade and to build on its strengths was born out of its need to be repaired first and foremost.

Good sound is subjective though. A friend of mine who owned and ran a Linn dealership for 20 years until last year listened to my system recently. He commented that he found the sound incredibly detailed and analytical but that he didn’t particularly like it. He knows me pretty well and I have purchased from him on many occasions, and he said that he knew it was the sound that he’d always known me to want. But as I’d talked with him and discussed hi-fi with him for over 15 years then he’s well placed to judge my requirements and preferences. So if he could have ‘tailor made’ a system for me to fulfil these priorities then my current system is what he would have recommended... he knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for.

The fact that J.S Audio did it after two conversations and two sessions with my Tri-vista to me is nothing short of remarkable, I think that they worked wonders.

As we always say, and read hundreds of times in magazines including this one, if it sounds good to you then it is good ... simple as that.

What I know for sure is that since the Tri-vista was modified I’ve never been happier and so impressed by what I hear. Also, for the first time in over 20 years I don’t feel the need to change anything; I really think that I’m where I want to be with the sound, it ticks every single box.

So I still maintain my comments in my original letter, don't always look to upgrade to brand new boxes of electronics. Before doing so take a look at what you have and look at the component upgrade opportunity that may be available. Google is brilliant for this!

Dave Mayer


Couldn't agree more Dave; you're spot on! DP



In the January issue a reader wrote expressing his ‘displeasure’ with the emphasis on cables, interconnects, etc. Without letting my feelings be known on the subject, I’d like to propose a theory for the said reader, as follows – at some point the hi-fi industry ran out of things to flog, so home theatre was invented to make more sales and then when the market for that dried up something else was needed to ‘keep them coming into the stores’... voila high-end cables, power conditioners, etc.


Nowadays there are very few stores that sell hi-fi equipment, at least on this side of the pond. Two decades ago there were many. The general public is into MP3, iPods, etc., mostly using music as a background to do other things, but not really listening.

Joe Wdowiak




Cables were needed to 'keep them coming into the stores', says Joe Wdowiak.


That’s a bit uncharitable Joe!  Cables interest people, especially those who have changed them and heard the difference and been surprised by it. Those who have not done this by-and-large remain sceptical, and I understand why, although because we cannot explain something does not mean it doesn’t exist – but I won’t get into this yet again!


It isn’t only hi-fi that has gone down the drain but a lot of the music business too. Big studios like Olympic have disappeared and even Abbey Road is struggling. The whole landscape has changed and I am not certain why. Digital portables and downloadable music synchronised to their use – notably iTunes – are not the only reason people do not listen at home seriously. Leisure time habits have changed and this is reflected in buying priorities. It’s a fickle world! NK


Hmmm... I think that's a little unfair Joe. It's easy to poke fun at the cable industry, because it's so amazingly variable, not short of hype and in many cases rather ridiculously presented to the outside world (the nineties fad for day-glo purple and green interconnects didn't help, methinks!), but the fact remains – to anyone who's bothered to audition a wide variety – that cables do make a difference. Notice that I say 'difference' and not 'improvement'; sometimes they can make things worse, and at others they can vastly boost your system's sound. It's all a case of which ones you choose; this is why we do review them and try to describe their respective sound. Of course, it's very system dependent, so our reviews have to be an entry point into your cable buying odyssey and not a universal proclamation. DP



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