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April 2013 Issue
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The February 2013 issue of Hi-Fi World was a great read as always (in Cyprus I usually get the online version) and I was really nodding away to your article about what constitutes “the best loudspeaker” (Quad ESL 57, you were arguing, which I have, thanks to you), but best does not mean for everyone and so on.

Imagine my surprise when I see you mentioning me as disagreeing with your review of the said radiator – sorry, loudspeaker. I didn’t actually disagree (readers can see the review online under Reviews > Loudspeakers) but just mentioned that some things are so good that maybe we should rearrange part of our life around them. Their bass is usually criticised, and I just put the idea that if our reference is a box speaker, then you will not be hearing that boxiness, but don’t mistake that for lack of bass. I look forward to the next issue where you report on the latest ESLs. I accept that one man’s 5 Globes is another man’s wife’s veto. “Best” is absolutely relative and system/environment/taste/spouse dependent

My system is a Rock II/Excalibur/Ortofon MC15 S2, an EAR 834P mm/mc/vol, a Quad 405-2, which probably has to be changed for tubes, and ESL 57s, for which I recently had new treble panels and used-but-checked bass (okay, upper-bass) panels from Quad, Germany. 

I have also acquired recently a Musical Fidelity 3A-X preamp for occasional CD/Quad FM3/iPhone listening. The passive output seems smoother, at least in this setup. It has an mm/mc phono stage which I read was considered highly, especially in passive mode, but I have not tested extensively.

The Ortofon MC15 replaced a broken MC25FL that I was very happy with. The MC15 has to go but am not sure to what. I read through all your reviews, World Favourites, technical articles and replies to many, many letters that related to cartridges but can’t say I have a clear idea.

Choose a suitable cartridge for the 834P? I have used Decca SG, Milltek Olympia in the past with good results. From the current options, 2M Black, Rondo Blue, Benz Micro Ace SL? 

I note you do not recommend the 834P anymore. Just use the Musical Fidelity preamp with a 2M Blue/Goldring 1042? Replace the 834P, MF and 405 with currently recommended valve phono, pre, power? Cartridge then? Another route?

Music taste is from Cat Stevens to Black Sabbath. And Dido, Adele, JJ Cale and anything with Ian Paice and Jon Lord (RIP). Your suggestions would be much appreciated.


Manolis Kroussaniotakis 





As budget moving coil cartridges go the Benz Micro Ace is a fine choice. 

But if you listen to Black Sabbath or Deep Purple like Manolis Kroussaniotakis 

then perhaps an Audio Technica AT-OC9 MLIII is best.



Hi Manolis. I used your views to illustrate the point I was making about the difficulty over reaching absolute conclusions about products, to fit in with a rigid rating scheme. What readers think and say valuably illustrates diversity of outlook and our need to cater for it, something a simple rating system does not do, giving an often unfair (as the manufacturer sees it) or misleading (to a reader/buyer) view. As I said, it isn’t an issue of disagreement, so much as differing tastes and requirements, so I am always grateful for your views  –  and those of all readers of course.

   Your LP front end is getting a bit long in the tooth. The EAR 834P goes back a long way and much has changed since its introduction. It had very strong bass, and a big warm sound. Also, the Ortofon MC15 and 25 measured very well but had a peculiarly lifeless sound, lacking verve. I was always a little bit perplexed by them. 

But that was long ago now. As LP sales grow and people return to the format, the budget moving coil cartridge sector is seeing a lot of activity and the Benz Micro Ace is one of our favourites of the new MCs. Get the L Low output version as this gives the best sound, it just needs a quiet phono stage which the 834P is, due to the use of input transformers. 

If you want to spend less then look at the popular Audio Technica AT-OC9 MLIII that is great for the Rock you quote, or a softer Denon DL304. Avoid the budget MCs though because you’ll end up with the same slightly lifeless sound you have from the MC15. 

    If you drop down to Moving Magnet cartridges then the Ortofon 2M Black is our favourite. However, just bear in mind that MMs generate significant hiss (thermal noise) internally and lack the dynamic range of MCs as a result. This almost certainly accounts for the subtle perceived improvement an MC displays. NK


Astell&Kern AK100

Thank you for such a comprehensive review of the AK100 ‘personal player’. Your impressions and thoughts about its use in a home hi-fi set-up are exactly mine, and I’m pleased it performed so well in your opinion – and with good technical results to back them up as well. 

    I have however spotted an error in the text and the battery life issue is of some concern that needs looking into.

   Codecs on the player: you say that the AK100 is only offered with WAV and FLAC, but the AK100 has always been capable of accepting WAV, FLAC, WMA, Ogg and MP3 music files now, and all future AK100s will also be loaded with Apple AAC, ALAC and AIFF files, these being downloadable from the iRiver web site for older AK100 units.

On battery life you quote 4 hours. This is disturbing! The quoted battery life is 16 hours from full charge when used with the screen off in normal function mode (screen turns itself off after a minute or so). I have had over 10 hours from full charge personally, with the screen on whilst changing tracks, albums etc (normal function mode). I wonder if the screen function on your AK100 is on at all times? 

    Both these are stated in the ‘negative’ list in the summary.  I wonder if it would be possible to correct at least the codec’s issue in the next magazine. A confirmation that the unit is always set up in English for our market would be useful to mention as well.

Best regards,

Michael Osborne


Astell&Kern AK100 portable plays high resolution audio up to 24/192

through headphones, acts as a CD player, and has Bluetooth.


The original battery test was structured, the player being switched on at 9am after charging overnight on an Apple iPhone charging unit, and set to repeat play, headphones connected (they draw current), screen off; it stopped working at around 1pm. The player was new from Korea and little used. 

   Repeating this test, after the battery had been cycled by use, the player was started at 8am and stopped working at 4.20pm – 8 hours and 20 minutes. That is a lot better and closer to your figures. Why the discrepancy I do not know. Lithium ion batteries are not the most stable or predictable of devices, as Sony and Boeing well know, and usage may have improved charge retention. 

    Also, the charging logic is opaque: the player charges when switched on or off it appears, but won’t switch off whilst charging and offers different responses to being charged when off or on, so whether charge rate differs I do not know – and this would affect results. As I said in the review, the charging process needs clearer explanation in the handbook, a charger should be provided or recommended, and a battery charge indicator fitted so battery condition can be assessed, as it can on most tablets etc. 

    I rather overlooked the fact that it plays MP3 and Ogg Vorbis, as you state: my apologies. Ours would not play AIFF, eliminating all Apple generated files so it’s good to hear that an upgrade overcomes this limitation, because it is a great player at heart and really shows the way forward. Our sample will be winging its way back to Korea shortly and we look forward to reviewing an updated version soon. NK




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