Hi-Fi News - August 2017
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VINYL & RECORD REVIEWS
76
78
NEWS AND OPINION
Classical Companion
This month Christopher Breunig
celebrates the life and recorded
work of conductor Sir Jeffrey Tate,
who recently passed away, aged 74
Welcome
14
News
17
Hi-Fi Show Live 2017
18
Show Blog
24
Investigation
Vinyl Release
Steve Sutherland sorts the spiritual
from the downright spooky as he
hears the 180g vinyl reissue of
Dr John’s The Sun, Moon & Herbs
80
Vinyl Icon
86
Meet The Producers
54
Clearaudio MC Essence
92
Music Reviews
58
Scansonic MB-5
62
Unison Research Unico 90
66
Meze 99 Classics
A break with tradition this month as
Johnny Black picks a compilation
album, but how else to salute the
genius of the late Chuck Berry?
Solo Syd Barrett in the early ’70s,
The Stone Roses’ triumphant debut
in the late ’80s... Steve Sutherland
on British producer John Leckie
Our selection of audiophile LPs
and hi-res downloads reviewed by
our specialists alongside the latest
rock, jazz and classical albums
DEFINITIVE PRODUCT REVIEWS
32
13
Focal Scala Utopia III Evo
Evo stands for Evolution, says the
company, so the latest iteration of
this loudspeaker stalwart sees
changes to the drivers. We listen...
36
Mola-Mola Makua/Kaluga
42
Mytek Brooklyn DAC
From Class D guru Bruno Putzeys
comes a do-it-all pre/power combo
not afraid to challenge perceptions
US company redefines the market
with a headphone amp/DAC that’s
both compact and keenly-priced
46
Marantz PM-10
50
Métronome Music Centre 1
‘Massive power and a clean, clear
sound...’ why this big all-analogue
integrated amp is a must-listen
All-in-one CD-ripping – NAS/digital
audio player promises to set you
free from your PC. And it does!
70
German company takes entry-level
moving-coil Concept MC cartridge
and aims to up its performance with
the emphasis on value. A success?
Slim floorstander sporting ribbons
from Raidho hopes to make the
highest of hi-fi sound affordable
Is there room for a back to basics
line-level-only hybrid amp in this
world of online music? You betcha!
Why this £270 headphone from an
audio industry newbie can teach a
few pedigree brands a lesson or two
Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital
Looking for an affordable, high quality
preamp for your desktop system? This
DAC/headphone amp could be it...
A message from the editor
Dynaudio’s celebratory standmount,
Innuos limited edition digital player,
new range-topper from Focal, highend meets high art from Metaxas
Early preview of our October show
Ken Kessler reports from the first of
this year’s Tonbridge Audiojumbles
where among rare turntables, tuners
and arms he spies a cherished amp
Keith Howard on a technology that
continues to seduce audiophiles – a
loudspeaker without a diaphragm.
Are we nearer to seeing it realised?
103 Opinion
Insider comment on the audio
topics of the day from Paul Miller,
Barry Fox, Jim Lesurf, Steve Harris
and, writing from the US, Barry Willis
112 Sound Off
Choosing a cartridge on a budget,
the long and short of AV cabling,
insights into Yamaha’s NS-1000M,
reader’s disappointment with DAB
138 Off The Leash
Are we weak-willed vinyl collectors
now susceptible to speculators?
Ken Kessler shares a tale or two of
p
his experiences
on Record Store Dayy
VINTAGE
118 Vintage Review
How does the classic kit of yesteryear
shape up today? We test an amp from
1978 whose circuit and cosmetics
re-wrote the rules – the Yamaha A-1
124 From The Vault
This month we plunder HFN’s vast
archives to return to Aug 1973 where
John Crabbe has taken delivery of a
pair of Acoustic Research LST speakers
LEFT: No frills yet
plenty of thrills as
we hear the PM-10
from Marantz – an
analogue-only
integrated amp with
Ncore modules at
its heart. See p46
ABOVE: The ionic speaker can
make unrivalled music so why
have so few designs made
it to market?
See p24
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82
57
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 3
AUGUST 17
CONTENTS
Xs - a new standard from Pass Labs
Xs 150: “Infinite smoothness in all registers. Unheard of
power and authority. Control during the
softest passages. I am speechless. I honestly
never expected this dramatic an improvement.
Absolutely a masterpiece.”
Distributed by Select Audio ‡ Tel: 01900 601954
www.selectaudio.co.uk ‡ www.passlabs.com
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Vivid Audio, 6 Star Road, Partridge Green, West Sussex, RH13 8RA, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1403 713125 Email: [email protected]
AUDIOPHILE MASTERPIECES
SINCE 1986
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AUG/17
RIGHT: The 99
Classics from
Meze offer a lot of
headphone for a
relatively modest
outlay. See p66
ake news never ceases
to make the news
these days. So just
who do we trust to
deliver impartial and
truly informed opinion on the
major events that both shape
and shake our world? Can we
rely on websites buzzing with
the views of unsalaried scribes
desperately seeking attention or,
darker still, authored by lobbyists
hiding behind the anonymity of a
colourful avatar?
In times of uncertainty we
turn to trusted sources, outlets
of news and views with a track
record that often extends way
back into our youth. There’s
comfort in the certainty of a
news brand that has
stood the test of time,
authored by seasoned
journalists many with
decades of experience,
and produced with a
passion for accuracy
and in-depth insight that’s rare in
a world of 30-second soundbites.
I could be talking about any
one of a number of political and
environmental crises that never
seem to leave our screens. But
I could just as easily be talking
about that next front page
review of a high-end floorstander
– news that’s arguably closer to
the hearts of fellow audiophiles!
So let’s start digging beneath
the surface and divine the
provenance of that next big
splash: does the author actually
have the space and resources to
set up equipment of this scale
F
ABOVE: Métronome boasts some of the most exotic digital hi-fi, but
the MC1 is its first player/storage/server solution. Full test on p50
and compare it with its peers? Or
is the ‘review’ simply an audition
at some unspecified location
with unfamiliar partnering gear?
Is this review no more than what
has become known as a ‘handson test’ – a cursory blog spot
spread over several pages?
Enthusiasts have every right
to ask these questions. And that
‘Typically, in times of
uncertainty we turn
to trusted sources’
VINYL: The late Chuck Berry’s The Great
Twenty Eight is this month’s Vinyl Icon
(p80) while Steve Sutherland digs the
voodoo jive of Dr John’s The Sun, Moon
& Herbs, re-released on 180g LP, p78
RIGHT: Hi-Fi News & RR is the UK’s
representative of EISA’s Hi-Fi Expert
Group. Editor Paul Miller took over as
EISA’s President in June 2016
is why we strive to give every
reader of Hi-Fi News the value
they deserve. So why also pay to
browse ‘technical specifications’
that you can read for free on the
manufacturer’s own website?
Where is the merit in that?
Overseen by the most
experienced technicians and
high-end authors in the business,
Hi-Fi News’ truly independent
lab and listening tests represent
a costly resource. But, as the
world’s longest-running hi-fi title,
we think you’re worth it.
PAUL MILLER EDITOR
HI-FI NEWS’ EXPERT LINE UP: THE FINEST MINDS IN AUDIO JOURNALISM BRING THEIR EXPERIENCE TO BEAR ON ALL AREAS OF HI-FI & MUSIC
BARRY FOX
Investigative journalist
supreme, Barry is the
first with news of the
latest developments
in hi-fi and music
technologies
JOHN BAMFORD
JB brings huge
industry experience, a
penchant for massive
speakers and a love of
hi-res audio in all its
diverse guises
KEN KESSLER
is a long-serving
contributor, luxury
goods writer and
champion for the
renaissance in valves
and ‘vintage hi-fi’
KEITH HOWARD
has written about
hi-fi for 40 years, and
edited Hi-Fi Answers
for nine. KH performs
our speaker and
headphone lab tests
STEVE HARRIS
Former Editor of this
very title from 1986
through to 2005. A
lifetime in audio and
a love of jazz makes
Steve a goldmine
ANDREW EVERARD
has reviewed hi-fi for
over 30 years and
is still effortlessly
enthusiastic about new
technology, kit and
discovering new music
STEVE SUTHERLAND
worked on Melody
Maker and then edited
NME from 1992-2000,
the Britpop years. Steve
brings a unique slant to
our Vinyl Release pages
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 13
NEWS We reveal the latest products and upcoming events
The missing link?
METAXAS HEADPHONE AMP – HIGH ART FOR AUDIOPHILES
‘Life is too short to listen to expensive
headphones through a musically
uninvolving headphone amplifier’, says
Kostas Metaxas who, with his two sons
(sins), crafts a range of audiophile objets
d’art. Most visually arresting of all is the
Marquis Memento Mori headphone/
line preamplifier built not into a
conventional box chassis but housed
within a 15mm-thick CNC-machined
alloy cranium. Price is £6000 in its
standard black finish or in one of several
‘premium’ colours (including gold, silver,
red and purple) for another £250.
Volume control and input selection
are governed by two (red) rotaries
in the cheeks of the skull while VU
meters for the left and right channels
stare out of the eye sockets... A choice
of headphone socket (a 6.35mm
jack socket is standard) gapes from
MkIII Maestro
Zenith Special
FOCAL EXTENDS ITS UTOPIA III SERIES
This month’s HFN features an exclusive review
of Focal’s forthcoming Scala Utopia III Evo
floorstander [p32], due to be formally launched
later in the year alongside the top-of-the-range
Maestro Utopia III Evo. Provisionally priced
at £40k this evolved version of the Maestro
features the same Sopra-inspired 165mm
‘Power Flower’ W-cone midrange unit used
in the Scala Evo but is paired here with two
270mm W-cone bass units, the lower of which
incorporates a proprietary ‘Magnetic Damping
System’ (MDS). Bass extension is claimed at
21Hz, just a little lower than the Scala’s 24Hz.
Focal-JMlab, 0845 660 2680; www.focal.com
INNUOS LIMITED EDITION DIGITAL PLAYER
NEW NANO
The miniature £199 nano iOne from
iFi Audio is the latest in a line of highquality, hub-powered USB DACs from
the busy brand. ‘Nano’ in size yet
promising to be big on performance,
this diminutive DAC includes USB
and S/PDIF inputs alongside wireless
Bluetooth. Resolutions up to DSD256
and PCM384 are supported by the
XMOS-based USB platform and BurrBrown DAC chip. Other technologies
include a ‘ZeroJitter’ memory buffer,
galvanic isolation and ANC (Active
Noise Cancellation) – all designed to
reduce noise and boost performance.
www.ifi-audio.com
NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Devialet has announced a ten-year
partnership with the Paris opera that,
among other innovations, includes
a streaming service of recordings
from the Paris Opera, including live
transmissions from the 2017/18
season. As part of its restoration
project, the Palais Garnier will include
a Devialet ‘sound discovery area’.
www.operadeparis.fr; en.devialet.com
14 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
the mouth while the rear of the skull
supports RCA inputs for two line-level
sources and a preamp output to feed a
partnering power amp.
The amplifier and VU electronics are
hosted on three PCBs within the back of
the skull, all connected via 9-pin D-type
(serial) ports while the substantial base
carries the power supply. Naturally,
the skull itself is also a purpose-built
headphone stand!
Metaxas has a clear design
philosophy for its line/headphone amps
– a combination of ‘high speed’ power
supplies with discrete rectification
and regulation coupled with very
widebandwidth audio gain stages.
Output is given at 15V/50ohm (4.5W) at
less than 0.05% distortion.
Metaxas & Sins, 07795 845 403;
www.metaxas.uk
Launched in limited quantities, the Special
Edition version of the Innuos ZENith music
ripper/storage/server features an improved
linear PSU with a custom-wound toroid feeding
three independently regulated supplies. Other
upgrades include a trio of ‘anti-vibration’ feet
placed asymmetrically under the player, highgrade silver-coated cabling for the internal
connections and uprated screening throughout.
The ZENith SE platform runs on a custom
‘innuOS’ operating system that supports CD
ripping, music file importing and management
including playback of music stored on external
NAS and USB drives. It may also be used as a
Roon Core Server or Roon Player. Additional
Ethernet and USB ports feed outboard DAC
solutions. The standard version of the SE player
(with 2TB SSD) costs £4999 and the XL version
(with 4TB SSD) is priced at £6699.
Innuos, 01793 384 048; www.innuos.com
We reveal the latest products and upcoming events NEWS
Triangle’s new tower
FRENCH SPEAKER BRAND EXPANDS FLOORSTANDING RANGE
The ranks of Triangle’s
loudspeakers, and its Esprit
range in particular, have
been swollen by a new model
– the £3295 Australe EZ
Reference. The tall cabinet is
supported on a glass pedestal
and isolated with perforated
rubber feet while spikes at the
corners improve its stability.
French brand Triangle is
never shy at packing in plenty
of drivers and the Australe
EZ Reference maintains this
tradition. The 1170mm-high
cabinet hosts a generous
combination of two 25mm
horn-loaded tweeters (one
rear-firing), a 165mm ‘midwoofer’ and no fewer than
three reflex-loaded woofers
with pulp/carbon fibre cones
operating below 310Hz.
Sensitivity is rated at a
high 92.5dB and the nominal
impedance an easy-going
8ohm while the split crossover
(between HF/MF and LF) facilities both bi-amping and bi-wiring.
The speaker is available in either ‘High Gloss’ black or white
finishes and weighs around 40kg apiece.
Triangle, France, 020 3397 1119;
www.triangle-fr.com; www.eliteaudiouk.com
Sitting pretty
Life begins at Forty
ANNIVERSARY STANDMOUNT FROM DYNAUDIO
Founded in 1977, Danish
loudspeaker brand Dynaudio
is celebrating its ruby
anniversary with a new twoway standmount – the €2999
‘Special Forty’. Available in high
gloss Grey Birch and Red Birch
lacquers, the compact cabinet
features a new 28mm Esotar
Forty tweeter married to a
HI-FI NEWS? JUST ASK...
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Just ask!
BLUE HORIZON ANNOUNCES ‘PROFESSIONAL RACK SYSTEM’
Partner company to IsoTek
Systems, known for its AC mains
conditioners, Blue Horizon
has announced its own very
‘passive’ accessory – the PRS or
Professional Rack System. Fully
configurable with single and
double-width shelves, machined
stainless steel uprights with
optional spikes, the PRS can be
further enhanced with Sanctum
HDF (high-density fibreboard)
platforms, pictured below.
The PRS’s shelves are made
from a laminate of bamboo, the
top and bottom layers arranged
with opposing grain and the
middle layer with a vertical
one-piece Magnesium Silicate
Polymer (MSP)-coned 170mm
bass unit. Geometrically
optimised, the unit is claimed
to work up to 4kHz while
overall sensitivity is rated at
86dB and impedance 6ohm.
Dynaudio International
GmbH, 01353 721089;
www.dynaudio.com
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IMPORTANT DATES FOR YOUR HI-FI DIARY
grain, all part of a strategy to
dissipate standing waves. Prices
start at £1925 for the PRS and
£199 for the Sanctum.
Blue Horizon/Audio
Power Systems GmbH,
0118 9814238; www.
bluehorizonideas.com
01-06 SEPT
21-24 SEPT
29-01 OCT
21-22 OCT
04-05 NOV
IFA Berlin, The International Funkausstellung, Germany
http://b2c.ifa-berlin.de
T.H.E. Show 2017, Hilton Anaheim, CA, USA
Tokyo International Audio Show, 3-5-1 Marunouchi,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
The Hi-Fi Show Live 2017, Beaumont Estate, Windsor;
www.hifinews.co.uk/show
High End Swiss 2017, Moevenpick Hotel, Zurich
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 15
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#' #' EVENTS Latest from the UK’s only high-end hi-fi show
SHOW
THE
Now in its fifth year, and with more new
exhibits, the UK’s only high-end audio
show gathers pace as the ‘who’s who’
of world-class hi-fi plan their debuts
2017
21st-22nd October
Esoteric is teaming up
with Nordost cables
at The Hi-Fi Show Live
to debut more of its
flagship ‘X’ series
separates, including the
K-01X – a more compact
version of the Grandioso
SACD/CD player.
Not only will Atlas Cables have a
working build station at The Hi-Fi Show
w
Live, but it will also be demonstrating
its ‘Grun Coherent Earthing System’
with range-topping Asimi and Mavros
analogue interconnects.
Ever wondered what the ultimate
digital disc/DAC/network audio player
looks and sounds like? Well dCS believes
it has the answer and will be tempting
visitors to The Hi-Fi Show Live with
its limited edition Vivaldi One player,
complete with latest (v2.0) Ring DAC.
Tickets
On Sale
Now
Advance tickets are on sale
for the UK’s premier highend audio event – The Hi-Fi
Show Live at the Beaumont
Estate conference centre, Old
Windsor on Saturday 21st and
Sunday 22nd October 2017.
Tickets cost £20 (£30 for
a weekend pass) via www.
eventbrite.co.uk or via
the link on the HFN website.
We will also be offering a
co
concessionary £15 day pass
f subscribers of Hi-Fi News
for
and Hi-Fi Choice, details of
which will be announced in
July. Please return regularly
to www.hifinews.co.uk/
s
show
for more details.
Instantly recognisable as
KEF’s EISA Award-winning
LS50 standmounts... but no,
these are the LS50Ws – a
fully active ‘music system’
with wireless, USB, S/PDIF
and analogue line inputs.
On demo at The Hi-Fi Show
Live, their custom DSP and
two mono amps per speaker
push the LS50 well beyond
its ‘passive’ performance.
Seminar specials
h mastter off vintage hi-fi,
The
Tim Jarman, returns to
The Hi-Fi Show Live, with
a series of demonstrations
showcasing iconic kit from
yesteryear. Come see and
hear some of the most
memorable components
from Hi-Fi News’ Vintage
Review series, learn what
to look for when buying
historic kit and get tips on
servicing and repair.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 17
SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe
Audiojumble, Tonbridge
Words & pictures: Ken Kessler
One thing the Tonbridge
Audiojumble has taught me is
that it’s a perfect indicator for
street-level trends. Our April
issue featured a heads-up on the
rumoured revival of the humble
cassette, and used cassette decks
certainly enjoyed brisk trade at
the bi-annual event. Then there
were open-reel decks of various
vintage, of which there were
plenty to tempt the connoisseur.
As ever, HFN contributors were
present, including Steve Harris
and Tim Jarman, the latter on the
lookout for mint vintage gems
for review fodder. There were
bargains galore, but I am not
here to torment you. Just make
sure you’re there for the next one
on Sunday, the 1st of October.
You might be as lucky as I was: I
snagged an Amcron (aka Crown)
D75 slimline power amp for £80.
Probably the most sought-after of pre-owned, workhorse
turntables rather than high-end legends, Technics directdrive decks are enjoying renewed popularity since the brand
reintroduced them. Still the DJ’s favourite, this unit is an SL-1210
Mk II in very good condition, but unusual in that it’s fitted with a
Rega arm and a felt mat. Methinks an audiophile owned it.
This table was weighed down with a surfeit of mainly British
amps ripe for restoration. Choices included a Pamphonic stereo
amplifier and tuner for £150, a Cooper-Smith EL84 amp and pre
for £250, Rogers pre/power for £400 and a Trix amp for £50 as
well as the rare Electro-Voice units lower left.
A hard to find, undeniably
unusual 4-track, twochannel Akai X-2000S, with
the company’s ‘crossfield’
heads and handling reels
up to 7in. This massive
deck – its dimensions are
350x465x270mm (hwd)
and it weighs a hefty
22.4kg – handled openreel, 8-track cartridge and
cassette, and could transfer
from one to the other. It
operated at 17⁄8, 3¾ and
7½ips, as well as 15ips
with an adapter. Probably
worth owning just for its
curiosity value.
18 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
SME tonearms like this clean and complete, boxed 3009/II were
plentiful but the desirability is such that prices seem to be going
up. I’ve seen some as low as £200, the average is around £350,
but as-new can fetch £600. This is a response to the recent
raising of new SME prices, after years of being underpriced!
SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe
Quad 33/303s are always present in Tonbridge, but
prices range from silly bargains to pure avarice.
I don’t need a set, but I looked longingly at this clean
303 for £125 and the 33 which went for £170. Ask
yourself this: what can you better it with for £295?
And still the best-looking combo ever.
For fastidious cassette revivalists, this Nakamichi BX-2 2-head deck with
Dolby B and C was a gift at £65. While I was ogling this, a known tape
deck expert cautioned me about spares (not just for Nakamichis) and how
the heads on most cassette decks ‘sucked’ – which is why the Revoxes,
Tandbergs and semi-pro TEACs and Sonys maintain high prices.
These Avreavox Arcana 82 monoblocks, priced by
the seller at £395 a pair, were said to have been
reviewed by me in October 2002. Hmmm… never
heard of ’em. They do, however, resemble the
Antique Sound Lab amps I did review in that issue…
which cost £250 the pair!
Super-clean Stern Radio Mullard 3-3 integrated amplifier with all-Mullard
valves was a snip at £95. Offering 3W output, inputs for 78s, LPs and radio,
this was original offered as a kit for £7, or assembled for £8. That’s £170
in today’s money, so all you need for a stunning mono system are a source
and a lone horn in a cabinet, of which there were plenty at the fair.
Leak remains a favoured brand among collectors,
but mainly for the amplifiers. This, though, is a fine
example of the Troughline II FM Tuner launched in
1960. As FM radio continues to be broadcast, it’s
ludicrous to suggest any sense of a revival in interest,
especially as rumours again abound of a shut-off.
This should bring a tear
to the eye of many
of you, because this
was the ‘NAD 3020
of turntables’. The AR
Sugden Connoisseur BD1
turntable kit was a hugely
popular starter record
deck. This is the more
posh BD2 in excellent
condition, with correct
plinth, platter mat and
dust cover, fitted with the
company’s tonearm and
supplied with a ‘period’
Shure MM cartridge.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 19
SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe
Rear view of a Garrard
301 motor unit nestling
in a massive custom
plinth with SME cut-out.
The plinth is made
of two thick slabs of
Perspex, separated by
brass cylinders in each
corner, creating an
effect that’s as much
Transcriptors as it is
Garrard. Both 301s
and 401s remain hot
purchases, and supplies
seem to be shrinking
– probably the fault of
the LP’s revival...
More British-made treasures from the pages of the
Hi-Fi Yearbooks, this trio of Dulci control units was
manufactured by Dulci Co Ltd (later Lee Products
International Ltd) between 1958 and 1961. Here are two
generations of DP A10s preamps on the top and in the
middle, with a Stereo Two on the bottom (upside down).
If you’re gonna buy a Revox A77 or B77 open-reel deck,
you might as well go all the way and grab this rather
fine, hugely desirable, matching B760 digital synthesiser
FM tuner – still highly rated by FM connoisseurs. Luckily,
this complex beastie was accompanied by the owner’s
manual, a guide so thick that it’s comb-bound.
One of the plum decks at the fair, a reasonably clean Revox A700 for
a serious £650, but worth every penny. This is certainly one of the
must-haves, along with A77s and B77s, Tandberg 20As, any Studer, the
big Technicses, etc. Note the pre-recorded tapes, with prices between
£5 and £20, which is pretty good considering how few were sold. I’m
kicking myself for not grabbing the Righteous Brothers’.
As expected, the vinyl revival has pushed separate tonearms to the fore,
and the Audiojumble was not short of clean examples selling below
SME prices. Try though I might, however, I can’t identify this arm –
Jelco, Acos, Fidelity Research, Audio-Technica? – and the ADC headshell
doesn’t help, but a £190 price-tag suggests a reasonable pedigree.
Another Audiojumble stalwart, the Transcriptors Saturn
turntable never fails to draw crowds. This deck defies
the purists who recoil in horror at five points to support
the LP rather than a flat platter, but a thin stiff mat could
easily rectify this. Yet why bother despoiling one of the
best-looking turntables of all time?
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 21
7KHQHZ46HULHVKL¼VSHDNHUV
[MXLERI[W]WXIQHIWMKRFII½IVPS[JVIUYIRG]HVMZIVWERHERI[
KEF.COM
SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe
Here’s another rare turntable, this time one for linear tracking
fans. It’s a Pioneer PL-L1000 in great condition with a price
tag of £395. With quartz controlled direct-drive, a nifty rotary
mechanism for arm adjustments and lift-and-lower buttons,
a size selector for 7, 10 and 12in discs and two speeds it’s
an interesting alternative to Revox, Rabco and B&O paralleltrackers. Price is right on the mark; Yanks pay US $600 for these.
I’ve always loved the look of the EMI 555 Stereoscope Twenty
Twenty integrated amplifier. It dates from 1959-1962 and uses
easy-to-obtain valves for 2x10W output. Notable for plenty of
inputs and the cathode ray tube mounted in the middle of the
front panel for fine-tuning various functions.
What a beauty! It was difficult to miss this blatantly Italian
Unison Research Mystery One all-valve preamplifier, with
characteristic curvy wood case. This unit was minimalist in that
it provided only volume, source select of four line inputs and
tape out, with optional phono stage. But I seem to recall the
sound was as gorgeous as the chassis. Sigh…
Aah, Uher! Now there’s a manufacturer I’d like to see come back
with an all-new open-reel deck. This is the coveted 4000 Report
which accepted 5in spools and was available as 2-track mono,
and later 4-track mono, with four speeds rendering it capable of
low-fi voice-only recording for up to 24 hours with the longest
tapes. Ultimately, stereo versions were produced.
A rarely-sighted Ariston
RD11 Model E turntable,
with manual and auto
modes. It also boasts two
speeds, belt-drive, a 24-pole
motor and built-in strobe
light. Thanks to its historic
links to the Linn LP12, this
is a bit of a sleeper, offering
terrific performance, and
in this guise, is quite a
find. You gotta love the
deck’s kitschy styling, a
break from plain plinths
and top plates.
Next
month
HFN reports from the annual
Hong Kong AV Expo
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 23
INVESTIGATION
Back to the Ion age
Keith Howard revisits one of hi-fi’s dreams: a speaker without a diaphragm
RIGHT: Ads from
Fane Acoustics
featuring its
Ionofane 601
ionic treble unit,
which cost £29
8s 0d when
released in 1965.
It was used in
the Yorkshire
company’s Model
603 speaker
(centre), and
Quartet (right)
BELOW: William
Du Bois Duddell,
the English
physicist whose
study of sounds
emitted by arc
lighting inspired
work on ionic
loudspeakers,
and (bottom) the
Ionofane 601
treble unit with
casing removed
showing inner
electrode and
oscillator coil
ne of the most enduring
Utopian concepts in
high-quality sound
reproduction is that of
the diaphragm-less loudspeaker,
particularly the diaphragm-less
tweeter. Diaphragms have mass and
thus inertia, and are never perfectly
rigid and so prone to structural
resonances, even if these occur
above the audible frequency range.
As a consequence, drive units
with diaphragms never exactly
reproduce transient waveforms
such as a toneburst – historically
perhaps the favourite test signal
for demonstrating this shortfall. A
diaphragm-less driver, by contrast,
suggests freedom from both inertia
and resonance, and hence an
uncompromised ability to reproduce
tonebursts [see Fig 1] or any other
‘difficult’ signal we may devise –
especially transient-rich music.
O
TALKING ARC
Fine, but the diaphragm-less
loudspeaker is mythical, surely?
No such thing does or can exist?
But actually it does, and what’s
more there are two qualifying
technologies: the ionic loudspeaker,
which this feature is about, and
the thermophone, which won’t
be discussed here.
Both systems have been
tantalising audiophiles for
a century or so: they can
be made to work,
but not quite as we
would wish. Not, as
we shall see, that
this stops people
continuing to try,
or reviving past
attempts. As an
example, Vaughn
Loudspeakers in the
US has, 50 years on,
recently resurrected
the Ionovac, the
first commercially
available ionic
tweeter to be
modestly successful.
The history of the
ionic loudspeaker
is usually taken to
24 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
begin with William Du
Bois Duddell’s singing
arc. Duddell, a British
physicist who was later
made a Fellow of the
Royal Society, was asked
in 1899 to solve the problem of
why the arc lamps used to light city
streets sometimes emitted hissing,
humming or howling noises.
Repeating some research first
conducted a year earlier by a
Dr Simon of Frankfurt, Duddell
discovered that the sounds were
caused by instabilities in the arc
current resulting
from it having a
negative electrical
resistance. Simon
had discovered
that by modulating
the arc current
he could create
a loudspeaker.
Duddell attached a tuned circuit
(inductor and capacitor) to an arc
and found that it emitted a note
at the resonance frequency. This
allowed him to create one of the
first electronic musical instruments,
with which he played ‘God Save The
Queen’ at a demonstration of the
device to the Institution of Electrical
Engineers in London.
Intriguing as Simon and Duddell’s
devices were – and significant
enough for Chester Rice and
Edward Kellogg of General Electric
to mention the ‘talking arc’ in
their seminal paper
describing the movingcoil loudspeaker in
1925 – they were not
sufficiently practical to
make a loudspeaker suitable
for sound reproduction in the
home. And so half a century passed
until a more practical alternative
was described in a patent filed in
Paris in 1951 by Siegfried Klein who,
despite his German-sounding name,
was a citizen of the French Republic.
The singing arc emitted sound
because varying the current through
the arc varied
the volume of
ionised gas in
sympathy, which
in turn generated
pressure waves in
the surrounding
air. It was,
in effect, an
approximation of the pulsating
sphere often invoked in textbooks as
an idealised sound source.
‘The technology
has tantalised
audiophiles for
a century or so’
THE IONOPHONE
The ionised air isn’t truly massless,
of course, but its inertia is very low
and there’s no physical diaphragm
to resonate or otherwise misbehave.
Klein sought to make the concept
more practicable by generating
a radio frequency glow discharge
around the tip of an electrode which
was enclosed within a quartz cell
to withstand the high temperatures
involved. This cell was placed at
the throat of a short acoustic
horn, allowing the Ionophone – as
it became known – to reproduce
treble frequencies. (British Patent
756,546, published on the 5th of
September 1956, contains more
detail for those interested.)
Initially Klein used a DC potential
of 700V and heated a platinum/
aluminium phosphate/iridium/
graphite electrode with a filament
to generate the corona discharge.
However, he soon switched to a
high frequency alternating potential
instead, initially at 400kHz. This
method allowed the filament
to be removed as the electrode
was heated to around 1000oC by
electron and ion bombardment.
ENTER FANE...
Unfortunately for Klein, his device
proved difficult to manufacture
as a useable, reliable product. In
the 1958 edition of Loudspeakers,
Wharfedale’s Gilbert Briggs reported
– perhaps with some relief – that,
‘Although the ionophone was
put on the market in France two
to three years ago it has since
been withdrawn, presumably for
modification. Several prototypes
have been demonstrated in England
by Plessey since 1955, but up to
the time of writing supplies are not
available to the general public.’
Problems were encountered
with screening the radio frequency
oscillator, which interfered with
radio and television sets, and with
the reliability of the quartz cell.
The use of Kanthal (which is
an alloy of iron, chromium and
aluminium) for the electrode fixed
one problem, obviating platinum
being vaporised and deposited on
the inside of the quartz cell.
It took until 1965 for a viable
ionic loudspeaker to become
available in the UK: the Fane
Acoustics Ionofane 601, which was
derived from the Ionovac developed
by DuKane Corporation (another
ABOVE: Vaughn
Loudspeakers
has, 50 years
on, resurrected
the Ionovac
(see www.
vaughnloud
speakers.com)
BELOW: Fig 1
– oscillograms
showing the
performance on
an eight-cycle,
18kHz toneburst
of a directradiating ionic
tweeter (the
dvl-Digi-Plasma,
right) compared
with a dome
tweeter (left)
and ‘ElektroMagnetostat’
(centre). In each
case the top
trace shows the
input waveform,
the bottom trace
the acoustic
output. (Taken
from the DigiPlasma product
literature)
Ionophone licensee) in the US. Fane’s
A E Faulkus had been interested in
the ionophone for over a decade,
the January 1954 issue of Wireless
World reporting under the headline
‘The “Ionophone” Demonstrated’
that he had played a prototype
device to the Radio Section of the
Institution of Electrical Engineers
as early as late-1953. Then the RF
oscillator operated at 20MHz, at a
power of 60W, with Faulkus telling
his audience that ‘the element
was truly aperiodic [without
resonance], tests and delay response
experiments on the combined horn
and element showing linearity from
600 to 20,000c/s [Hz].’
Crossover to a 15in moving-coil
LF unit was at a nominal 800Hz. By
the time the 601 was launched, the
oscillator frequency had increased
to 27MHz and acoustic output was
restricted to higher frequencies, the
horn cut-off being at 1.5kHz.
Better known for its high-power
guitar loudspeakers used by giants
of the rock music PA industry such as
Hiwatt, WEM and VOX, Fane wasn’t
the obvious manufacturer of a leftfield diaphragm-less tweeter which
sold at the princely sum of £29 8s
0d. But when Ralph West reviewed
the 601 in the April 1966 issue of
HFN, in combination with a Fane
603 handing frequencies below the
3.5kHz crossover, he concluded,
‘The sum total of the experience
to date with the Ionofane is that
it is an outstanding tweeter for
domestic use.’ John Bowers of the
young Bowers & Wilkins agreed,
incorporating the Ionofane in his P2
loudspeaker alongside an elliptical
EMI bass-mid driver.
Despite its positive critical
reception, the Ionofane remained
something of an oddity and, not
least because of its complication
and cost, never came close to
supplanting the increasingly
ubiquitous moving-coil tweeter,
even in costly loudspeakers –
although Ionofanes could sometimes
be found in use alongside the
original Quad Electrostatic. The 601
was bulky, needed mains power and
ventilation, and required periodic
replacement of the electrode and
quartz cell. Plus, it was horn-loaded
at a time when horns were going
out of fashion.
Nevertheless, the concept of the
ionic loudspeaker was too attractive
for forward-thinkers to give up on
it. Some strove to develop directradiating ionophone tweeters, freed
from the need for horn loading,
while others dreamt the ultimate
dream of a full-range ionic speaker,
rather than one restricted to
reproducing high frequencies.
CORONA TRIODE
However, before describing those
developments we have to return to
the post-WW2 period to pick up on
a parallel development to Klein’s
device – one which would become
increasingly significant in later years.
Dr David M Tombs was a New
Zealander who, according to an
article by Stanley Kelly in the January
1985 issue of HFN ‘Low Inertia
Loudspeakers’, originally began work
on a corona wind loudspeaker in
the 1940s at the National Physical
Laboratory in Teddington. By the
time he wrote of his work, though,
in a short report to Nature in 1955
(p923), Tombs was senior lecturer
in telecommunications at Imperial
College, and thereafter became
director of research at Hoover Ltd.
What he invented he called
the corona triode, based on the
discovery that a corona wind (a
flow of ionised air) moves between
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 25
karma
INVESTIGATION
two electrodes, one sharp and the
other blunt, if they are sustained at
sufficient potential difference. If a
third, ring electrode – analogous to
the grid of a triode valve – is placed
around the sharp electrode, then
varying its potential will control
the strength of the corona wind.
If the ring electrode’s potential is
varied using an audio signal, then
the corona triode will emit sound –
but at a very low intensity and with
significant distortion.
TISSUE DAMAGE
To overcome the distortion issue,
Tombs developed the corona triode
along the lines
shown in Fig 2,
first using opposed
pairs of needle
electrodes and
then elaborating a
push-pull version to
cancel distortion.
A prototype using
a large array of needle electrodes
was demonstrated, if I remember
correctly, at the National Radio
and Television Exhibition, Earls
Court (known as Radiolympia when
previously held in the Olympia
exhibition centre) in 1955.
I say ‘remember correctly’ not
because I was there (I’d have been
in nappies) but because after
writing a previous article about
ionic loudspeakers in 1997, I was
contacted by the legendary Angus
McKenzie who related that he had
assisted in the demonstrations as
a student and been hospitalised
thereafter as a result of prolonged
exposure to ozone created by the
corona discharges.
Ozone or triatomic oxygen, O3 –
contrary to myths about it being an
invigorating ingredient of seaside
air – is an irritant gas and principal
constituent of photochemical
smog. It has a pungent smell and in
quite low concentrations damages
mucous membranes and soft tissues
in the respiratory system. It is a bane
of ionic loudspeakers which we will
return to later.
David Tombs subsequently passed
his invention on to the Televex
Corporation in the US, whose
president Gerald Shirley wrote about
it in Radio & Television News (Oct
1956 issue) and then the Journal
of the Audio Engineering Society
(Jan 1957 issue). No commercial
realisation ever emerged, but a
number of subsequent patents
have appeared based on the same
principle (including one of my own),
using needles or, more practically,
thin wires as the corona electrodes,
the latter used to generate ions in
photocopiers and
laser printers.
The most
famous ‘almost’
commercial corona
wind loudspeaker
was the Ion
Cloud developed
by Nelson
Pass, who at the time was with
Threshold Audio. In 1986 he got
as far as appearing (besuited!)
beside a prototype on the front
cover of the Vol 6 No 1 issue of
US magazine Stereophile, but he
‘“Audiophiles
will find these
loudspeakers
mind-blowing”’
ABOVE: Fig 2 –
evolution of the
corona triode
loudspeaker from
single-ended
to push-pull
configurations.
(Taken from
Shirley, G.
‘Corona Wind
Loudspeaker’,
J Audio Eng Soc,
v.5 no.1, January
1957)
BELOW: Nelson
Pass whose
Ion Cloud
loudspeaker
made prototype
form in 1986.
The project was
dropped after
Pass discovered
he was lacking
oxygen in his
blood after his
exposure to
ozone
too suffered health issues as a
result of ozone exposure and the
project was dropped. (Although in
an interview with Thomas Norton
of Stereophile over 20 years later
he would describe it as ‘the most
physically and sonically transparent
loudspeaker I’ve ever run across.
That is to say, you could see
right through it, and it sounded
like it wasn’t there. It was quite
remarkable in that regard.’)
Another large, full-range
ionophone was also promised from
French company AHL. It was called
the Cold Plasma but it too never
made it to production except,
perhaps, in minuscule numbers.
A GASEOUS DIVERSION
No history of ionic loudspeakers
is complete without mention of a
completely different approach to
realising the diaphragm-less ionic
loudspeaker famously conceived by
US laser physicist Alan Hill, who set
up Plasmatronics in Albuquerque
in New Mexico to manufacture the
Hill Type-1. Described in US patent
4,219,705, Hill’s ionic tweeter – it
operated from 700Hz to ultrasonic
frequencies, with two movingcoil drivers handling the bass and
lower midrange – used helium
to establish a lavender-coloured,
incandescent plasma discharge that
was modulated to radiate spherical
sound waves.
It was large, it was expensive
($7000 a pair in 1980) and required
a supply of pressurized helium gas,
all of which factors contributed to
a small production run, eventual
demise and an enduring legendary
status. Stereophile founder J Gordon
Holt said of it, ‘most audiophiles
will find these speakers to provide
the most mind-blowing listening
experience they have ever known.’
Reportedly, fewer than 60 were
made (http://hillplasmatronics.com).
And so we return to terra firma
– which in this context means ionic
tweeters using radio frequency
discharges – and the inventive
Siegfried Klein again. One of
those who sought to develop the
ionophone as a direct-radiating
rather than horn-loaded tweeter
was Klein, the ionophone’s inventor.
By eliminating the horn and its
associated resonances (whatever
Faulkus said in 1953, the hornloaded ionophone cannot have
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 27
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INVESTIGATION
listening room to be ‘sufficiently
aired’; in actuality I found I could
only operate the MP-02 for periods
of ten to 15 minutes before the
stench of ozone became unbearable
and I had to switch off and leave the
listening room, having first thrown
open the windows.
RECENT IONOPHONES
been truly aperiodic), this would not
only be a purer realisation of the
diaphragm-less loudspeaker, it would
also eliminate the troublesome
quartz cell – though not the erosion
issues associated with the electrode.
Klein’s new design appeared in
commercial form as the Magnat
MP-02 plasma tweeter in 1984.
Its black case with heatsink fins
running front to back across the
top surface was the size of a small
amplifier, perched
atop which was the
ionophone’s outer
electrode in the
form of a spherical
mesh, reminiscent
of a large metal
microphone grille.
Enclosed within
was the central electrode around
which the RF discharge was formed,
in similar manner to that in the
original ionophone. But here the
electrode could easily be changed,
in an operation which involved
minimal disassembly and took mere
seconds to perform. The price when
I reviewed it for Hi-Fi Answers in the
Aug 1984 issue was £562 each,
equivalent to about £1700 today.
ultrasonic-rich input signal too (not
that the U87i had much in the way
of ultrasonic response). On these
signals (in mono) the MP-02 sounded
magnificent, easily surpassing the
performance of the metal dome
tweeter in a Celestion SL600.
How much of this memorable
performance – I later recorded that
‘the Magnat produced a quality of
treble I had never heard before,
nor have I since’ – was due to
superior transient
performance,
wider bandwidth
or the MP02’s almost
omnidirectional
radiation had to
remain a subject
of speculation.
What wasn’t open to debate was
that Klein’s new ionophone was
effectively rendered unusable by its
efficiency as an ozone generator.
Magnat’s instruction manual
archly referred to a need for the
‘I had to leave
the room. The
stench of ozone
was unbearable’
ABOVE: The
US patent
(4,219,705) for
Alan Hill’s Hill
Type-1 ionic
tweeter
RIGHT: Original
brochure for
the Hill Type-1.
The speaker
used helium
to establish
a plasma
discharge,
shown in the
photograph
below that of the
speaker itself.
Two moving-coil
drivers handled
bass and lower
midrange
RATTLED KEYS
The MP-02 knocked me out with
its sound, but not on commercial
recordings from LP or CD (then in
its first flush of youth) at least partly
because of the poor integration
with the main speaker afforded by
its crossover. Fortunately I’d had
the foresight to borrow a Neumann
U87i microphone and Paiste 18in
crash cymbal for the listening,
which were set up in an adjacent
room to provide a live feed. Rattled
keys were used to provide an
Another direct-radiating ionic
tweeter to appear in the early ’80s
was the dvl-Digi-Plasma. Produced
by Zurich-based Transonex AG, it
too soon disappeared. If any made
it to the UK, I never saw or heard
one. There’s no reason to suppose
that it was any less effective an
ozone generator than the Magnat.
Principally because of the ozone
problem and the difficulties of
LEFT: ‘The future
has already
begun’ says
Magnat in this
1984 advert for
its MP-X-088
loudspeaker with
MP-02 plasma
tweeter on top.
The spherical
mesh was the
ionophane’s
outer electrode
addressing it with a direct-radiating
ionophone like the MP-02 – which
convects air because of its hot
electrode, aiding the ozone’s
dissemination! – the more recent
ionophones to have emerged have
reverted to Klein’s original idea of an
enclosed, horn-loaded electrode.
I know of two that are currently
available: the Acapella Ion TW 1S –
interesting for its use of a catalyst to
solve the ozone problem – and the
re-engineered Ionovac from Vaughn
Loudspeakers, called the Plasma
Tweeter. The Lansche Corona seems
to be no more.
And so the diaphragm-less ionic
speaker lives on. It’s a Utopian
dream that refuses to die – but
one that has never lived up to
everything hoped for it. For more
see http://airspeaker.co.uk, www.
plasmatweeter.de and www.rogerrussell.com/ionovac/ionovac.htm.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 29
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MISSING A SKIN
Although Focal refers to the Scala Evo’s midrange driver using
‘third generation W sandwich technology’, in fact this cone is not a
sandwich at all. While Focal’s W-cone bass drivers do have sandwichconstruction cones – with epoxy/woven glassfibre composite skins on
either face of a Rohacell structural foam core – the W-cone mid unit
has just one epoxy/woven glassfibre composite skin, on the rear face
of a Rohacell cone. Focal’s full sandwich mid diaphragm was stiffer
but heavier and had severe breakup modes that couldn’t easily be
controlled, so the second skin was deleted but the Rohacell retained
as a damping layer. According to our measurements, this hasn’t
always been a successful compromise: all have demonstrated obvious
midrange driver resonances in their cumulative spectral decay
waterfalls. The Evo does too, albeit much better controlled than we
saw in, for example, the Grande Utopia EM [HFN Sep ’14], which may
be due to the new TMD surround [HFN Sep ’15].
in the Sopra range, and its motor includes
Focal’s Neutral Inductance Circuit (NIC),
also first seen, and discussed, in our review
of the Sopra No2 [HFN Sep ’15].
TMD is Focal’s novel solution to an
abiding problem in moving-coil drivers:
that however stiff you make a cone or
dome to obviate bending
resonances within the driver’s
passband, the roll surround can
still let the side down.
Itself subject to resonances,
it also represents a significant
fraction of the driver’s radiating
area. Focal’s TMD surround
adapts a well-known technique
from mechanical engineering
called tuned mass damping
(aka harmonic damping), in
which carefully dimensioned
and positioned masses act to
suppress resonance. In the Evo’s
midrange driver the masses take
the simple form of two small ribs
moulded into the roll surround.
NIC, by contrast, deals with the
variation in voice coil inductance
with displacement. As the voice
coil moves forwards, out of the
magnet gap, it encloses less
of the motor’s pole piece, and
vice-versa when it moves in the
opposite direction. In effect the
voice coil is like an inductor
with a ferromagnetic core,
only the core is waggling
about, varying the voice coil
inductance and introducing
distortion. Focal’s Neutral
Inductance Circuit comprises a
Faraday ring (a ring of electrically
conductive material which acts as a
‘shorted turn’) placed concentrically at
the base of the pole piece and having no
direct contact with either the pole piece
or magnet. With NIC, the midrange driver’s
multitone distortion is reduced by about
10dB, a factor of over three.
In some key respects, then, the Evo
represents the Utopia range catching up
with the cheaper Sopras. Given the large
price differential – the Sopra No3 now
costs £16,999 and has specifications little
short of the Evo’s – it was essential this
happened, and happened soon.
DAVID LISTENS
As motorsport fans used to say, ‘there’s no
substitute for cubic capacity’. The Scala Evo
has a lot of this, and the result is a sound
that’s quite different from your run-of-themill tall floorstander with multiple drive
units and narrow front baffle. Rather than
sounding as if the music is being squeezed
tightly from a toothpaste tube it flows
out in a wonderfully unconstrained and
easy manner. Nicely balanced from top to
bottom, smooth and seamless, the Scala
Utopia III Evo just gets on with the job of
making music in an enjoyable way.
For example, Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita
Lineman’, from Rhinestone Cowboy [EMI
7243 580723 2 7], really benefited
from the barrel-chested nature of this
loudspeaker as that beautiful bass-guitar
playing pushed the song along with
ease. Further up the frequency spectrum,
Campbell’s creamy voice was sweetly
carried, alongside the delicious string
accompaniment set behind him. Nothing
sounded shrill and everything fitted
together in a satisfyingly coherent manner.
I also rather liked the way that the bass
didn’t overpower things, though PM’s
listening room offered it plenty of space
to breathe. Up top, treble was enjoyably
sweet, spacious and atmospheric.
The Scala Utopia III Evo continued to
excel with the complex layers of heavily
compressed synthesisers in Annie Lennox’s
arresting cover of ‘Don’t Let It Bring You
Down’ from Medusa [RCA 74321257172]
– a none-too-spectacular mid-’90s digital
recording. Here the Scala Utopia III Evo
remained composed, proving well able
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 33
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With automatic updates over the
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yStreaming: Roon endpoint, Tidal, Deezer and
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yWiFi and 10 inputs: 1 x Ethernet, 1 x Asynchronous
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yMulti-format DAC and digital preamplifier.
yWorld class balanced/single ended headphone amplifier.
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yFully modular, future proof architecture.
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yAvailable in silver or black chassis.
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LAB
REPORT
FOCAL SCALA UTOPIA III EVO
LEFT: Now with a split crossover,
the Evo III features pairs of 4mm WBT
cable terminals for bi-wiring/amping.
The reflex port vents downwards and
outwards across the substantial plinth
with aplomb, serving up a clean and
detailed midband although the bass
did seem perhaps just a little lacking
in extension. But generally, this was
not an issue.
LOST IN SPACE
to pick through the midband mush,
allowing the listener to hone in on
individual strands of the mix. At
the same time, it focused on the
interplay between the electronic
snare, bass drum and hi-hat sounds
with great precision.
Low bass notes were allowed to
play completely independently of
everything else, setting Lennox’s
steely but vibrant voice apart from
the mix, bringing out her every
inflection. Even on crunching
dynamic climaxes this speaker
displayed a consummate ease.
LFO’s ‘Frequencies’, from
Frequencies [WARP CD3], a classic
’90s techno track with vast tracts
of synthesised bass around 35Hz,
soon tells you how a loudspeaker
is behaving down below. The Scala
Utopia III Evo launched into this song
The new jazz strains of Courtney
Pine’s ‘UK’ from Devotion [Destin-E
Records 777-001], and Mother
Earth’s ‘Warlords Of Pendragon’ from
You Have Been Watching [Focus
CD11], both showed a key strength
of this loudspeaker – namely its
fine soundstaging. With the right
programme material it can set up a
cathedral-like recorded acoustic that
fills the room, its unflappable nature
allied to its reproduction of fine
transients ensuring it deftly handles
the rhythms of any piece of music.
With the bristlingly complex
percussion of Grace Jones’s ‘Private
Life’, from Island Life [Island Records
IMCD 16], the new Scala Utopia
III Evo never once lost its balance.
Finally, I cued up Black Uhuru’s
‘Emotional Slaughter’ from Chill Out
[Reggae Refreshers RRCD 43] – a
seminal slice of early-’80s reggae
with Sly and Robbie doing the
honours in the rhythm section.
The song came over in a hugely
enjoyable way, again with fine bass
articulation, a crisp midrange and
sweet treble. Focal’s Scala Utopia
III Evo hangs images in space
beautifully, gives a vast, tangible feel
to proceedings and packs a punch.
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Although Focal’s specified sensitivity of 92dB doesn’t seem
unreasonable for a speaker of the imposing size of the Scala
Utopia III Evo, our measured pink noise figure of 89.8dB
suggests that it is over-optimistic and that 90dB would be a
more realistic figure. Our measurements also disagree with
the stated minimum impedance of 3.2ohm as we recorded a
dip to 2.5ohm at 94Hz. In combination with large impedance
phase angles at low frequency, this drops the minimum EPDR
(equivalent peak dissipation resistance) to a low 1.1ohm at
74Hz, making the Scala Utopia Evo a challenging load to drive,
albeit easier at higher frequencies.
The forward frequency response [Graph 1], measured
on the tweeter axis with the covers removed from bass and
midrange drivers, is flat in overall trend but for a mild presence
band dip and rising response above 17kHz. The response errors
are quite low at ±3.3dB and ±3.4dB, respectively, but below
18kHz are better still at ±2.5dB. Pair matching error over the
same 200Hz-20kHz range is exceptionally low at ±0.5dB,
equalling the best we’ve ever measured. Diffraction-corrected
nearfield measurements showed the bass extension to be 40Hz
(–6dB re. 200Hz), so there’s room for a subwoofer here. Apart
from the well-damped tweeter breakup resonance occurring
at about 23kHz – a surprisingly low frequency for a 27mm
beryllium dome, bettered by most 25mm aluminium domes –
the response ripples between 2kHz and 10kHz are a familiar
feature from previous Focals, caused by breakup resonances
in the midrange driver cone which are clear in the cumulative
spectral decay waterfall [Graph 2]. KH
ABOVE: Forward response is generally flat but a cone
resonance is linked to ripples in presence/treble
dB
0.0
-6
1.0
- 12
2.0
- 18
8
3.0
- 24
4.0
- 30
5.0 msec
200
1000
10000
Overall, it’s the physical size
of Focal’s Scala Utopia III Evo
that marks it out as special. It
produces a commensurately vast
sound that never shows any signs
of strain, always coming over as
confident and assured. Its great
speed and large dynamic reserves
mean it can go loud quickly and
easily without ever compressing
things. This translates into a lithe
and musical sound that you’ll
never tire of listening to.
Sensitivity (SPL/1m/2.83Vrms – Mean/IEC/Music)
90.0dB/89.9dB/89.6dB
Impedance modulus min/max (20Hz–20kHz)
2.5ohm @ 94Hz
19.3ohm @ 20Hz
Impedance phase min/max (20Hz–20kHz)
–65o @ 60Hz
25o @ 242Hz
Sound Quality: 84%
THD 100Hz/1kHz/10kHz (for 90dB SPL/1m)
0.5% / 0.4% / 0.1%
Dimensions (HWD)
1247x393x670mm
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
Frequency in Hz >>
ABOVE: Cumulative decay waterfall shows a damped
cabinet but also some cone resonances from 3-10kHz
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Pair Matching/Response error (300Hz–20kHz)
±0.5dB / ±3.3dB/±3.4dB
LF/HF extension (–6dB ref 200Hz/10kHz)
40Hz / >40kHz/>40kHz
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 35
PRE/POWER AMPLIFIER
Pre & monoblock power amplifiers. Rated at 400W/8ohm
Made by: Mola-Mola, The Netherlands
Supplied by: Sound Design Distribution Ltd, Cardiff
Telephone: 0800 0096213
Web: www.mola-mola.nl; www.sounddesigndistribution.co.uk
Price (pre/power): £7499/£4999 (each)
Mola-Mola Makua/Kaluga
Named after the wonderfully weird Ocean Sunfish, there’s nothing prehistoric about
the design of this pre/power combo with its bespoke phono, DAC and Class D tech
Review: Paul Miller & David Price Lab: Paul Miller
s a mass production proposition,
solid-state has been the only
way to do amplification since
the 1960s. Not only that, but
traditional hot/warm-running Class A or A/B
designs have held sway for almost as long,
while super efficient, cool-running Class D
designs have been trying to make headway
in the notoriously conservative hi-fi world
for at least the last decade. Crucially, high
power Class D amps typically need little
in the way of cooling, and can be used in
small spaces. That’s why so many consumer
audio products now work this way.
A
A GAME CHANGER
The trouble is that many folk don’t like the
sound of ‘archetypal Class D’. Some early
designs were particularly poor, presenting
as detached and sterile, with little in the
way of emotion. However, the innovative
– and not a little eclectic – Mola-Mola
brand aims to change all this with the
£7499 Makua preamp and £4999 Kaluga
monoblock amplifier combination here.
In a nutshell, Class D sees the audio
signal represented as a series of analogue
pulses, switched at high speed by
specialised output transistors, the width of
the pulses representing the amplitude of
the (music) signal. The music, I might add,
is only recovered after this high frequency
PWM (Pulse Width Modulated) signal wends
its way through a low-pass filter. In Class D
circles, it’s the design and implementation
of this filter that so often separates the
mediocre from the ‘audiophile’ amplifier.
While, over time, the breed has
improved, an early Group Test [HFN Apr
’08] showed that not all such amplifiers
are created equal. One landmark advance
was the arrival of the Hypex power module,
utilising the UcD (Universal Class D)
technology developed by Bruno Putzeys
while working at Philips some 15 years ago.
RIGHT: The PSU [right] is screened inside the
Makua preamp. The PWM DAC board [centre]
features no fewer than three SHARC processors
while the phono module [left] adapts to multiple
equalisation profiles via the app controller [p37]
36 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
The Hypex solution has featured in many
amplifiers tested in HFN, all benefiting
from the module’s consistent frequency
response and distortion behaviour
irrespective of the attached speaker’s
load impedance. It is little surprise that
amplifiers based on these Hypex modules
regularly outperform rivals, in sound terms.
Of course, a key benefit of Class D
operation is that it
offers dramatically lower
power consumption
than Class AB – >90%
efficiency versus 5060% – which makes it
far more viable as a
long-term technology
going forward. But its
audiophile credentials have risen too,
particularly with the advent of the Hypex
Ncore module [see PM’s Class D Done Right
boxout, facing page].
We’re now watching it work its way
into high-end amplifiers, starting with the
NAD Masters M22 [HFN Apr ’15] right up
to today’s Marantz’s PM-10 [p46] and this
Mola-Mola Kaluga monoblock.
EXCEPTIONAL VERSATILITY
The latter has one key advantage, as
it’s also the brainchild of the man who
created the Ncore module itself, the
aforementioned Bruno Putzeys. It’s an
understatement to call him one of the
leading experts in
his field, as I’ve said,
playing the key role in
the development of the
Hypex Class D module,
and then Ncore. The
NC1200 modules inside
the Mola-Mola power
amp are capable of
producing significant amounts of power –
the claimed 400W [see PM’s Lab Report,
p41] enough to drive practically any
loudspeaker without the ‘wobbly response’
that afflicts conventional Class D designs.
More than just a biscuit tin with a
volume pot, the Makua preamplifier
‘It’s the brainchild
of the man who
created the Ncore
module itself’
incorporates its own clever technology
and is a statement product in its own
right. Putzeys has gone to exhaustive
lengths to create an exceptionally versatile
control amp. Alongside five line inputs
(either unbalanced on RCAs or balanced
on XLRs, switchable at the back), it offers
the options of both a custom PWM DAC
(an extra £4299) and a highly configurable
MM/MC phono stage (£1699). All stages
use what is described as ‘discrete amplifier
modules working in single-ended driven
differential mode’, while the sophisticated
relay-based volume control directly governs
the gain of the preamplifier output.
The Makua offers two parallel outputs to
facilitate bi-amping, both with phase invert
and mono modes, plus balance and input
gain offset controls. This is all done under
full software control, and unusually uses
Bluetooth to communicate with its custom
app, rather than via a home network, to
allow users to configure everything to
their exact needs – so all you need is a
smartphone or tablet.
The six small buttons on its fascia are
programmable for any combination of
channel, processing and routing – all via
the app. You can even configure several
inputs for different phono eq presets, of
ABOVE: Inputs are selected via six buttons and
the exquisitely fine stepwise volume via a rotary
but the Makua can only be fully accessed via its
Bluetooth app [screenshots shown right]. Our
sample had DAC and phono modules installed
class. However, while the swoopy, wavelike top of the casework chimes with its
nautical name, it does impose restrictions
on what you place atop. A matching
handheld remote, crafted into a similarly
curvy block of alloy, is available for £599.
SUPERBLY ABLE
multiple vintages, alongside gain setting in
5dB steps and cartridge loading for all MM
and MC types. The app even grapples with
the volume control, though the chattering
of the relays is a little unusual. Moreover,
the preamp ‘talks back’ to the app, so the
latter knows if you are making manual
changes to volume or input.
The superlative matt aluminium finish of
both pre and power confers a sense of pure
esoterica, eschewing American or Japanese
aesthetic conventions yet still exuding
CLASS D, DONE RIGHT
Coincidentally this is not the only Ncore-powered
amplifier in this issue of HFN – the Marantz PM-10
[p46] features bridged NC500 modules for a heady
600W output. The Kaluga monoblocks, however,
are the first amplifiers we’ve seen where Ncore
Class D modules – the NC1200 in this instance –
have been implemented by the man who designed
the technology in the first place. And, as you might
expect, they represent the most elegant and
technically proficient example of analogue Class D
H-network)
we’ve tested. Many Class D amps still use a bridged (H-network)
architecture where the amp/speaker frequency response is hugely influenced
by undulations in the speaker’s load impedance. Reviews of these products are
typically reviews of the specific amp/speaker combination. But not here... Ncore’s
novel compensation offers a vanishingly low (5-9mohm) output impedance [red
trace, inset Graph], only rising steeply above an ultrasonic 60kHz. So, while the
Kaluga has a very subtle treble roll-off, its response varies by less than ±0.1dB
from 8ohm down to 1ohm loads [black and green traces]. Very few amplifiers,
Class D or otherwise, are so immune to speaker loading. PM
Class D’s detractors argue that it’s
impossible to make the breed sound good,
claiming it to be inherently ‘unmusical’.
Yet within seconds of setting ears on the
Makua/Kaluga, it’s obvious that this view
is just plain wrong. There is no obvious
downside here. True, it’s not quite as open
and translucent as the finest Class A
amplifiers which I’ve heard – yet they
represent a far more expensive proposition.
Nor does it have the supernatural rhythmic
ability of the best parallel, single-ended
tube designs. But it’s a way more practical
purchase. It’s immediately apparent that
this is a superb sounding amplifier with a
broad spectrum of abilities – getting on
with the job of delivering vast swathes
of clean power into
whichever loudspeaker
yyou choose.
Tonally smooth and
sseamless, dynamically
a
and rhythmically
e
expressive, broad
a
and deep in its
ssoundstaging, powerful
in its bass, open in the
m
midband and sweet in
th
the treble – it simply
so
sounds right, and from
this all else follows.
Steve Hackett’s ‘Narnia’ from Please
Don’t Touch! [Charisma VJD-28208] shows
it to have an evenness of tone that few
conventional designs have: there’s none
of the ‘chrome plated’ upper midband
you get from some, or the mush or grain
you hear from others. Instead, the Makua/
Kaluga is super-clean.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 37
ᅿᅿᅿᅿᅿ
Norfolk
01328 878313
Kent
01892 532995
Scotland
0131 221 9753
Distributed exclusively in the UK, Germany and Ireland by SCV Distribution
www.scvdistribution.co.uk | 03301 222500
Scotland
0131 662 1327
London
020 8815 5878
BRUNO PUTZEYS
Via the balanced line inputs, there
is no particular part of the spectrum
where it shines its light brightest. Not
even Supertramp’s ‘Take The Long Way
Home’ from Breakfast In America [A&M
Records 393 708-2] could push it into
shrillness. This album was mixed for dull
American FM radios of the late-1970s, and
Roger Hodgson’s reedy
voice can grate – yet the
Makua/Kaluga remained
beautifully balanced.
Indeed, as you twist the
volume control clockwise,
things stay consistent,
with no sense of bass
suddenly falling away, or
treble running into trouble, even at very
high levels. This is another instantly likeable
trait – things remain all-of-a-piece and in
control, whatever demands are made on
the amplifier. A key facet of this is its bass
performance, for regardless of the different
loudspeakers I asked it to drive there was
always a wonderful assuredness.
It isn’t quite as rich and sumptuous
as some high-end amplifiers, yet it has
ABOVE: Each Kaluga monoblock is roughly half
the width of the Makua preamp, sharing the
same ‘wave’ case design with sled-like feet
seemingly endless reserves and remains
accurate and tuneful at all times. Those
who want a fat bass should look elsewhere,
as instead the Mola-Mola Makua/Kaluga
goes for accuracy. It can
deliver vast tracts of LF
into your loudspeakers
should the need arise.
4hero’s ‘Cosmic Tree’
from Two Pages [Talkin’
Loud 558 462-2]
illustrates the point,
thanks to the gutsy Mooggenerated sub-bass running throughout
the song, which becomes highly animated
at several points. The Makua/Kaluga
served up all it without a single hair out
of place, so to speak. Effortless even at
high levels, it seems to look at domestic
hi-fi loudspeakers – and the demands they
place upon it – with complete indifference.
‘They simply
sound right, and
from this all
else follows’
BELOW: Bruno’s NC1200 Class D Ncore amp
module sits adjacent to the 4mm speaker
terminals, powered by a SMPS1200 PSU [right]
NOTHING FORCED
Few Class D amplifiers I have heard really
let you ‘zero in’ on individual instruments in
the mix and follow them right through the
song. Yet present the Makua/Kaluga with
‘Most Class D designs are
industrialised well before every last
stone is turned and so innovation
stops,’ suggests Mola-Mola’s Bruno
Putzeys. ‘Until they see a competitor
screeching past who, in turn, goes to
sit on their laurels. That’ll never work
– if you want to have some hand in
your own destiny you have to race
yourself, not someone else.’
Belgian-born Bruno worked
at Philips for ten years, ‘and that
gave me the opportunity to try out
every crazy Class D idea I wanted
to… I then moved to Hypex to
commercialise UcD and invent the
follow-up, Ncore. I quit both in 2015
to co-found Kii Audio in Holland to
work on active speakers. In parallel
I started research company Purifi
with Lars Risbo [of TacT Millennium
fame] where we threw ourselves at
loudspeaker drivers.’
He points out that, ‘Class D is
the obvious choice for all the right
environmental and practical reasons
but it’s a fantastic challenge to get
good audio performance. This makes
learning how to design audiophile
Class D amplifiers a worthwhile
investment.’ As for the idiosyncratic
moniker, Bruno says that, ‘an agency
came up with the Mola-Mola name
and logo. We loved it immediately on
the grounds that it is stylish, wacky
and impossible to forget.’
Bruno is now working on a
standalone version of the Makua DAC
module called the Tambaqui. ‘It’ll do
to other DACs what the Kalugas do
to other Class D power amplifiers…’
he promises, ‘after that you can
expect a very special integrated.’
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 39
LAB
REPORT
MOLA-MOLA MAKUA/KALUGA
ABOVE: Preamp (top) offers five ins, on RCA or XLRs, routed via (optional) phono or
line stages. Note digital module [far left]. Balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) outs
connect to XLR/RCA ins on the Kaluga mono amp [below]. Each has pairs of 4mm outs
a densely mixed and compressed
classic pop recording such as Elvis
Costello’s ‘Oliver’s Army’ from Armed
Forces [Imp Records IMP FIEND
CD21] and it delivers an unerringly
stable, almost ‘architectural’ sound.
The listener is allowed to absorb
the mix in all its complexity, with
each different instrument playing
alongside one another. So many
amplifiers can turn this song into
a generic mush, yet this combo let
you hear each musical strand do its
own thing. There’s no price exacted
for such transparency, however. The
Makua/Kaluga pairing doesn’t sound
as bright or as analytical as other
apparently ‘forensically detailed’
amplifiers. Everything is there to be
heard, yet it is never forced on you.
LITHE AND TUNEFUL
This combo has real strength-indepth, with no nasty surprises as you
switch between inputs. The digital
in – both via S/PDIF and USB – largely
proved to offer more of the same,
with a slight firming-up of images
to add to its already superb stereo
soundstaging. The Makua/Kaluga
indeed has a spacious feel to it, able
to present a vast recorded acoustic
where everything is locked in place
with nothing lost in the ambience.
This ties in with its
aforementioned unflappability at
high volumes and smoothness from
bottom to top – it’s another facet
that’s part of its big, confident yet
calm character.
Grant Green’s ‘No 1 Green Street’
from Green Street [Blue Note 7243
5 40032 2 6] had immense scale
and clarity, with instruments as if
bolted to the back wall. At the same
time, the Makua/Kaluga created a
satisfying soundstage where you
could practically tell the distance
between the four walls of the
recording venue.
The phono stage was excellent
too. It proved exceptionally quiet
and well up to the standards
you’d expect from an audiophile
preamplifier. My vintage pressing
of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony
with Karajan and the Berlin
Philharmonic [DG SLPM 138 805]
sounding particularly broody and
atmospheric. Bass was lithe and
tuneful, the midband delicate and
satisfyingly three-dimensional, while
the treble had a wonderful satiny
texture to it.
To sum up, the Makua preamp/
Kaluga amplifier is a brilliant ‘do-itall’ high-end design, highly capable
across a broad range of fields, from
its ability to track the smallest to
widest dynamics, to its prowess at
unpacking the densest of recorded
mixes so that you can see – hear –
right into the musical picture.
Tested via its DAC option, the Makua preamp’s maximum safe
volume is ‘4.0’ (or 9.75V out) where distortion is extremely
low at 0.00004-0.00045% over the top 30dB of its dynamic
range (20Hz-20kHz, all sample rates) and the A-wtd S/N a very
considerable 121dB [see Graph 2]. One digital filter option was
enabled on our sample – a linear phase type with equal pre/
post ringing traded against a 79dB stopband rejection. The
response(s) are tailored with sample rate, being ruler flat to
within ±0.03dB up to 20kHz with 44.1/48kHz media but rolling
off slightly earlier at –3dB/36kHz and –3dB/59kHz with 96kHz
and 192kHz files, respectively. Low-level linearity is true to
within ±0.1dB over a 100dB range (±0.5dB over 120dB) while
jitter is incredibly low: less than 8psec at all sample rates!
The analogue preamp stage necessarily offers the same low
distortion and wide S/N but with a response that’s flat to within
–0.01/+0.04dB from 1Hz-100kHz through a (balanced) output
impedance of 22ohm. The partnering Kaluga power amp did
meet its 400W/700W 8/4ohm power specification at 1.5% THD
but was closer to 370W/8ohm and 675W/4ohm at 1% THD with
382W, 705W, 1255W and 1025W achievable into 8, 4, 2 and
1ohm loads under dynamic conditions [see Graph 1]. Gain is
fine at +27.7dB and although the 81dB S/N (re. 0dBW) is a little
below average (albeit purely white noise) distortion remains
low at 0.0002% up to 10W, increasing to 0.002% at 100W and
0.03% at 300W (all 1kHz). Distortion increases rapidly above
10kHz, however, to 0.05%/20kHz/10W (0.7% at 40kHz) in line
with the tailored response of –0.9dB/20kHz to –5dB/60kHz.
Remarkably, the output impedance remains <0.009ohm from
20Hz-20kHz [see boxout, p37]. PM
ABOVE: Dynamic power output versus distortion into
8ohm (black trace), 4ohm (red), 2ohm (blue) and
1ohm (green). Maximum current is 32A for 10msec
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
What’s not to like about an
immaculately presented, ultra
versatile pre/power amplifier that
drives even the toughest speaker
loads imperiously, and has vast
reserves of power? Not only that,
but the Mola-Mola Makua/Kaluga
does this with great decorum and
finesse, and no small measure of
style too. Indeed it’s all such fun
that naysayers would never think
it a Class D design – proof positive
surely that it has come of age.
Sound Quality: 89%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: THD vs. 24-bit/48kHz digital signal via S/PDIF
and USB over 120dB range (1kHz, black; 20kHz, blue)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Power output (<1% THD, 8/4ohm)
370W / 675W
Dynamic power (<1% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm)
382W / 705W / 1255W / 1025W
Output imp. (20Hz–20kHz, pre/power)
22ohm / 0.005–0.009ohm
Freq. resp. (20Hz–100kHz, pre/power)
+0.01 to –0.04dB / +0.0 to –4.7dB
Input sensitivity (for 0dBV/0dBW)
161mV (pre) / 118mV (power)
A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBV/0dBW)
102.2dB (pre) / 80.7dB (power)
Distortion (20Hz-20kHz, 1V/10W)
0.00014-0.0033%/0.0003-0.03%
Power consump. (pre/idle/rated o/p)
43W / 24W/405W
Dimensions (WHD in cm) / Weight
42x11x35/20x11x34cm / 11/7kg
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 41
DAC/HEADPHONE AMP
Outboard USB & S/PDIF DAC with MQA and headphone amp
Made by: Mytek Digital, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Supplied by: Mytek Digital, Poland
Telephone: +48 22823 7238
Web: www.mytekdigital.com
Price: £1795
Mytek Brooklyn DAC
Proving that the best things really do come in the smallest packages, this diminutive
DAC, headphone amplifier and preamp from the US just overflows with features
Review: Keith Howard Lab: Paul Miller
ith product names like
Brooklyn and Manhattan,
Mytek couldn’t be anything
other than New York-based.
Founded in 1992 and active in professional
as well as domestic audio, it has made
its name in audiophile circles principally
through this versatile and keenly priced
DAC, which is actually a DAC/headphone
amplifier/basic preamp in the mould of
Benchmark’s equivalents.
Indeed it’s hard not to make
comparisons with the Benchmark DAC3
HGC when describing the Brooklyn DAC,
given that they’re even of similar sizes.
But the plain truth is that, for all their
similarities, the two differ in what are
significant respects to the hard-bitten,
Nirvana-seeking audiophile.
W
SUPPORT FOR MQA
In my review of the DAC3 HGC [HFN May
’17] I expressed disappointment that it
was limited to a 192kHz sampling rate
for PCM files and 2.8MHz for DSD files
(DSD64) – whereas no such criticism can be
levelled at the Brooklyn. On the contrary,
it is a thoroughly modern DAC product in
supporting up to 192kHz PCM via its S/PDIF
inputs (coaxial and Toslink), up to 384kHz
PCM via its USB interface, and DSD64,
DSD128 and DSD256 via the latter as well.
It further distances itself from the
Benchmark DAC in supporting MQA too,
yet it costs £1795 against the DAC3 HGC’s
£2349. Astonishingly, the Brooklyn’s
analogue input can also be configured
as an MM or MC phono stage – although,
as the Brooklyn has no ADC (Analogueto-Digital Converter), it can’t be used to
digitise vinyl sources. If the word ‘bargain’
is beginning to form in your mind at this
point then you’ll hear no argument from
me. About all the Brooklyn lacks is network
RIGHT: A switchmode PSU [far left] feeds
an XMOS-based USB input [centre], NXP
microcontroller, ST ARM/Cortex CPU and Altera
Cyclone FPGA [left]. The ES9018K2M DAC [right]
lies adjacent to a 100MHz clock from Abracon
(note erased IC package markings)
42 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
capability – but that can be had in the
costlier Manhattan II.
Let’s tour the estate. To the left of the
fascia are two ¼in jack sockets that can
be configured to carry either identical
stereo signals, allowing two unbalanced
headphones to be connected, or balanced
signals for a single headphone equipped
with balanced cabling. In the latter case
an optional Mytek adapter lead is required
that wires two headphone jack plugs into a
female four-pin XLR connector.
Moving right, next are two function
buttons that provide quick access to
the sample rate and volume menus
respectively, which are shown on the
central OLED display. To the right of the
display two further buttons access the
input and mode menus. Out to the far right
is a rotary encoder knob which doubles as
a volume control and navigation control
for the menus. Pressing and holding it also
turns the unit on or off.
MYTEK CONTROL APP
In addition to being controllable via the
fascia, the Brooklyn can alternatively be
operated via a supplied hand-held remote
control, or if it is connected to a computer
via USB, via a Mytek Control Panel app that
is also able to apply firmware upgrades.
This is downloadable from the Mytek web
site for both Windows and Mac operating
systems. (For Windows, a USB driver has to
be downloaded and installed too.)
At the rear, running left to right as you
face the busy back panel, are first a pair
of male XLR sockets – with gold-plated
pins to resist corrosion – which carry the
balanced analogue outputs. Alongside
these are two gold-plated phono sockets
carrying unbalanced equivalents, and
alongside them two further phono sockets
providing analogue input. As already
mentioned, this can be configured either as
a line-level input or phono input with RIAA
equalisation, switchable
between MM and MC
sensitivities with input
loading of 47kohm and
90ohm, respectively.
Next comes the AES/EBU
balanced digital input and
two coaxial S/PDIF inputs,
followed by a USB-B socket
and Toslink optical input which accepts
either S/PDIF or ADAT signals (reflecting
Mytek’s pro audio interests). Above the
last two inputs are something you rarely
see on domestic DAC products – word
clock input and outputs on BNC sockets.
These allow two or more Brooklyn DACs to
be synchronised for multichannel replay,
including multichannel DSD.
Last before the IEC mains input are a
turntable ground terminal for when the
analogue input is used for vinyl replay, and
a coaxial socket that allows the Brooklyn
to be powered not via its internal power
supply but from an external 12V DC source.
I wasn’t able to check out all the
Brooklyn’s capabilities in my listening – I
don’t own a turntable, for instance, so
I wasn’t able to assess its prowess as a
phono preamp. Instead I concentrated on
how it performs as a headphone amp and
as a DAC, just as I did with
the Benchmark DAC3
HGC. Analogue input
signals were generated
by a Chord Electronics
QuteHD fed S/PDIF from a
TC Electronic Impact Twin
FireWire audio interface,
itself fed from my secondgeneration Mac mini running JRiver Media
Center v22 on Windows XP. The same
S/PDIF feed was also used to deliver digital
signals to the Brooklyn’s coaxial inputs,
with USB input via a Chord Company
SilverPlus USB cable, from a second
computer running Windows 7 and JRMC
v22. For headphone listening I used Sony’s
discontinued MDR-MA600 [HFN Oct ’12],
which remains
my all-time
favourite £300
headphone;
‘A bargain? You’ll
certainly hear
no argument
from me’
MYTEK & MQA
While the Brooklyn is equipped with customary ‘Fast Rolloff’ and ‘Slow Roll-off’ (both linear phase) and ‘Minimum
Phase’ digital filters only the latter type is enabled with
MQA decoding, possibly for its sympatico with the filter
employed during the MQA encoding process. With MQA
disabled, the ‘Fast’ FIR filter yields the familiar pre/post echo
cho
on impulses but offers a good rejection of alias distortions and a flat response
(–0.05dB/20kHz, –0.7dB/45kHz and –2.1dB/90kHz with 48kHz/96kHz/192kHz
media, respectively). The ‘Slow’ filter [red traces, inset Graph] offers a hugely
reduced time domain distortion, with just one pre/post impulse ‘echo’, but has
very poor rejection of aliasing and incurs an early treble roll-off with CD/48kHz
media (–3dB/20kHz). It’s far better suited to higher sample rate files where the
–4dB/45kHz and –5.5dB/90kHz roll-offs with 96kHz/192kHz media are inaudible.
Finally, the Minimum Phase filter has no acausal distortion (pre-echo), offers a
very flat response and good alias rejection but still has group delay through the
audioband and an extended post-ringing [black traces, inset Graph]. PM
ABOVE: As well as being a DAC/preamp, the
Brooklyn is a capable headphone amp. It can
drive two unbalanced headphones or the twin
outputs can be configured for balanced drive
loudspeaker listening was via Naim NAP300
amps into Thiel CS1.6s [HFN Mar ’09].
THAT OLD MAGIC
I began by using the Brooklyn DAC as an
analogue headphone amplifier, to gain
some insight into the performance of its
analogue stages. The outcome was very
good but, as I found with the Benchmark
DAC3 HGC, a very slight step down from
what the best sub-£1000 (non-DAC)
headphone amps can deliver. A particularly
telling track proved to be ‘How Long
Blues’ from Milt Jackson and Ray Charles’s
Soul Brothers [Atlantic Jazz 7 81951-2;
192kHz/24-bit download from HDtracks].
This old recording (1958) with its obvious
tape hiss might seem like an odd track
to use almost 60 years later to assess a
modern hi-res product, but you won’t need
me to tell you that some recordings from
tthis era have a magic
that eludes many
m
more recent offerings.
And ‘magic’ is as
g
good a word as any
tto describe what the
B
Brooklyn lacked here.
O
On the face of it, its
ssound was clean and
w
well-separated, the
im
imaging spacious. But
th
there’s another layer to
th
this recording that the
Brooklyn DAC didn’t quite tap into – a layer
of intimacy, delicacy and believability that
was perhaps just beyond its grasp.
The tactile quality of brush on drum
skin was slightly diminished, for example,
and Jackson’s vibraphone was, well, just
a little less vibrant. ‘Love Me Tender’ from
Elvis 24 Karat Hits [RCA CAPP 2040 SA;
SACD rip converted to 88.2kHz/24-bit
PCM] is another recording from this period
that exudes a rare sense of intimacy, and
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 43
Experience a New
Dimension in Sound
The Model 15 could be described as "the
ultimate in recovery vehicles", allowing the
cartridge to retrieve the last nth of recorded
material whether digital or analogue, from the
vinyl disc and thus approaches the ultimate in
perfection.
Receiving its inspiration from the superb Model
10 precision turntable the Model 15 seeks to
emulate the excellence of our Models 20/3 &
30/2 turntable whilst retaining the more compact
footprint preferred by many of our enthusiasts.
SME Limited
Mill Road
Steyning
West Sussex
BN44 3GY
T +44(0) 1903 814321
F +44(0) 1903 814269
E [email protected]
www.sme-audio.com
The Model 15 has been designed with the same
attention to detail combined with simplicity of
operation that has come to be expected from all
SME products. Its superb performance together
with laid back styling make it a glamorous
addition to your sound system that will astound
and amaze listeners for many years to come.
Call for a demo
Audio Lounge
138 Wigmore Street
London W1U 3SG
020 7487 4080
www.audiolounge.co.uk
LAB
REPORT
DAC/HEADPHONE AMP
MYTEK BROOKLYN DAC
ABOVE: Despite the Brooklyn’s compact form factor Mytek has squeezed in two
S/PDIF coax and one optical, an asynchronous USB and AES/EBU XLR input alongside
Word Clock in/out (on BNC), analogue ins on RCA and variable outs on RCA and XLRs
the Brooklyn treated it similarly.
The sound was fine, but arguably a
footstep short of special.
Turning to the Brooklyn’s DAC
stage, as I always do I first compared
its sound quality via the coaxial
S/PDIF and USB interfaces, since so
often the former proves superior. An
eclectic mix of tracks was assembled
to decide this: Gretchen Peters’
‘Hello Cruel World’ [Proper Records
PRPCD124; 44.1kHz/16-bit rip],
‘Jingo’ from Santana’s eponymous
album [HDtracks 96kHz/24-bit
download] and the title track of
Cameo’s Word Up! [Mercury 830
265-2; 44.1kHz/16-bit rip]. All told
the same familiar story of sound
quality realised via S/PDIF that was
more open, more transparent and
more dynamic than via USB.
MAKING ME SMILE
This won’t be of comfort to potential
Brooklyn customers intending to
play audio from computer via USB
but, of course, there are means of
generating an S/PDIF output [see
Mutec MC-3+ USB review, HFN Feb
’17] so every audiophile can still
enjoy the best the Mytek Brooklyn
DAC has to offer.
I did also use the USB interface
to listen to DSD256 source material,
specifically the opening movement
of Beethoven’s String Trio in C-minor
Op.9:3, from the Janaki String
Trio’s Debut on Yarlung Records
[YAR62376 (CD); DSD256 download
from Native DSD] – a track that’s a
superb ambassador for what highrate DSD can achieve in the way of
exquisitely detailed and nuanced
but warm and natural sound.
I was initially puzzled by the
very slightly hazed sound quality
delivered by the Brooklyn DAC when
compared to the same track played
via my Teac NT-503DAB, using Teac’s
own software player. But there are
other factors at work here, for it
seems a measure of this shortfall
appears attributable to my choice
of JRiver Media Centre as the player,
because the NT-503DAB also sounds
less impressive fed from it than it
does from its proprietary player. So
it’s certainly worth experimenting
here to get the best ‘DSD sound’
from the highly capable Brooklyn.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed my
best times with the Brooklyn DAC
listening to PCM files via its coaxial
S/PDIF input, using the SR (slow rolloff, linear-phase) digital filter option
that proved to be my favourite
[see PM’s boxout, p43]. And good
times they were because in this
configuration the Brooklyn proved to
be a fine performer, easily the equal
of most £1000+ DACs which lack all
the Mytek’s other facilities, etc.
Conway Twitty’s wonderful
‘Lonely Blue Boy’ [from the Capitol
Masters bootleg that did the rounds
a decade or so ago] – which is just
so infectious you wonder whether
pop music has been in decline
ever since – put a broad smile of
re-acquaintance on my face. As
did Owen Brannigan’s Sergeant of
Police singing ‘When a felon’s not
engaged in his employment…’ from
Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates
Of Penzance [Decca 425 196-2]. I
forgot the hardware, and there’s no
better outcome than that.
Our review of Benchmark’s DAC3 HGC [HFN May ’17] concluded
that, however potent its performance, there are new and
more affordable DAC/headphone amp solutions nipping at
its heels. And the Mytek Brooklyn DAC, right down to the
comparable form factor, is high on the list. Sure, it uses the
ESS Sabre ES9018 DAC rather than the ES9028 featured in the
DAC3 HGC, but its performance is still in the ‘top drawer’ and it
offers MQA decoding to boot. The Brooklyn DAC is also aimed
at both pro and audiophile audiences, offering a substantial
9.65V (balanced) output from a 73ohm source impedance.
Tested in volume bypass/direct mode, it enjoys low distortion
from typically ~0.001% at 0dBFs/peak output (20Hz-20kHz) to
0.0003% at –10dBFs and 0.0004% at –30dBFs [see Graph 1].
Linearity is true to ±0.2dB over a 100dB range and ±0.4dB
over a full 110dB range, aided by a tremendous 115.5dB A-wtd
S/N ratio, while jitter is <10psec at all sample rates through all
digital inputs. Responses are flattest in ‘Fast’ filter mode, but I
discuss this, the time domain responses, and MQA on p43.
The analogue headphone preamp is rather beefier
than that in Benchmark’s DAC3 HGC with a maximum 9.1V
output into high impedance loads (140mW/600ohm) and a
substantial 2.63W/25ohm available for low impedance types
in single-ended mode [see Graph 2]. Distortion does increase
with loading at low frequency however, from 0.002% at 1kHz
(1V/600ohm) to 0.03% (40mW/25ohm) and up to 0.16% at
20Hz (also 40mW/25ohm). The analogue response is ±0.04dB
(1Hz-100kHz) from a low 1ohm source impedance (equivalent
to a loss of 0.3dB/25ohm) while residual hum and hiss is low at
–89dBV (unweighted). PM
ABOVE: Distortion vs. 24-bit/48kHz digital signal
level over a 120dB dynamic range. S/PDIF and USB
inputs are near-identical (1kHz, black; 20kHz, blue)
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
In most respects the Brooklyn
DAC is a marvel: it packs so
much into its small box, and asks
so little for it. By any sensible
assessment it’s a bargain. Only
when you put your ‘Tough To
Please Audiophile’ hat on are you
reminded that it’s not a miracle
worker, in particular that its USB
interface could sound better,
especially on high-rate DSD. But
PCM via S/PDIF is another matter.
On that the Brooklyn really sings.
Sound Quality: 85%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: Continuous power output vs. distortion into a
25ohm ‘headphone’ load. THD increases at low freqs.
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Maximum output level (Balanced)
9.65Vrms at 73ohm
Maximum output (headphone)
9.1V/600ohm / 2630mW/25ohm
A-wtd S/N ratio (S/PDIF / USB / headph)
115.5dB / 115.5dB / 87.3dB
Distortion (1kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)
0.001% / 0.00032%
Dist. & Noise (20kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)
0.0013% / 0.00035%
Freq. resp. (20Hz-20kHz/45kHz/90kHz)
+0.0dB to –0.07dB/–0.7dB/–2.1dB
Digital jitter (48kHz/96kHz/USB)
8psec / 7psec / 7psec
Power consumption
13W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
218x44x206mm / 1.6kg
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 45
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
Integrated amplifier. Rated at 200W/8ohm
Made by: Marantz (D+M Group), Japan
Supplied by: D&M Audiovisual Ltd, UK
Telephone: 02890 279839
Web: www.marantz.eu
Price: £6999
Marantz PM-10
For its latest ‘reference class’ offering, Marantz has opted to build a big integrated
amplifier rather than a two-box solution. But it’s a design with a difference...
Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller
stablished hi-fi practice suggests
that, when you get to a certain
level, you might want to
stop thinking about all-in-one
integrated amplifiers and consider a set-up
with a separate preamplifier and one or
more power amps.
The idea, as we’ve all known for ages,
is that splitting audio systems into their
component parts – eg, pre/power amps, or
even transports and DACs – also separates
interference-creating circuitry from more
sensitive areas of the design. It also gives
scope for dedicated power supplies for
each section of a product.
And of course it facilitates future
upgrading by swapping out just one
component, not the whole thing. Better
to change to a bigger power amp, or
a superior DAC, for example. The boxswapping potential so beloved of some
audiophiles is virtually limitless!
E
GRAND SCALE INTEGRATED
However, that’s not the way Marantz is
thinking, for in replacing its classic SC-7
preamp and MA-9 monoblocks as the
company’s reference offering it’s gone for
an integrated amplifier in the form of the
£6999 PM-10. It’s designed to partner the
excellent SA-10 SACD player/DAC [HFN Mar
’17] and is the result of a claimed long and
painstaking development process designed
to ensure it really is a step up from the
acclaimed 7 Series models.
So, the PM-10 flies in the face of
convention when it comes to macho
kit-rack appeal, in that it’s just the one
box, not a matching stack of enclosures.
This is high-end hi-fi almost anyone can
understand, for the SA-10 looks just like
a normal CD player, only bigger, while
the PM-10 is just like any of Marantz’s
integrateds, right the way down to the
entry-level PM6006 [HFN Sep ’16], only
again on the grand scale.
RIGHT: A linear PSU feeds the HDAM-based
balanced preamp [far right] while switchmode
supplies [left] support the bridged Ncore Class D
power amps from Hypex [centre, top]
46 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
Except it’s not quite like those one-box
baby brothers, and again departs from the
modern norm, in that this is a resolutely
analogue-only amp.
In an age when just about every piece
of hi-fi equipment, from micro systems
to high-end preamps, is sprouting
asynchronous USB inputs, LAN ports for
streaming and stubby little rubber Wi-Fi/
Bluetooth antennae, the PM-10 does no
more than take analogue signals in and
then punt them out again, only louder.
It’s not hard to see why, for although
‘needs must’ drives the fact that its junior
amp models have DACs onboard, Marantz
is no great fan of such an arrangement. In
practice it prefers to keep things pure and
simple by putting all the digital stuff in a
partnering player, be it of the CD or the
network kind. And when the digital trickery
is of the standard found in the SA-10, with
its quad-DSD upsampling and ultra-simple
‘DAC-less’ output stage, it makes perfect
sense for the partnering amplifier to
leave all the number-crunching there, and
concentrate entirely on the task in hand.
HEAVY METAL
So what we have here, as is made clear
by the internal layout, is a preamplifier
and a pair of monoblock power amplifiers
slotted into one (admittedly pretty
substantial) box. And while it shares the
softly-rounded design that’s now seen
across the company’s range this is still one
solidly-built amplifier, from its heavyweight
copper-plated chassis and thick aluminium
‘body panels’ to the substantial heatsinks
within. Even the speaker terminals are solid
copper, being a custom-made Marantz
item designated SPKT-100+, rather than an
off-the-shelf, bought-in part.
And the amplifier is very simple. Indeed,
it’s starkly obvious all the things this amp
hasn’t got, so forget app control, for the
PM-10 doesn’t even have tone controls.
Instead you get a phono stage and four
sets of line inputs, two sets of balanced
inputs plus a direct power amp input (for
use, for example, with an external surround
processor), a single set of ‘record’ outputs,
those substantial terminals for two sets of
speakers or bi-wiring, and
a headphone socket with
dedicated amp.
Add in the usual
Marantz D-BUS remote
control loop-through and
that’s almost it, apart
from what Marantz calls
its ‘Floating Control Bus
System’, which enables multiple PM-10s to
be used together under the control of one
amp’s volume adjustment, etc.
For the purposes of this review, though,
I’m sticking to what the PM-10 can do
as an ‘ordinary’ stereo amp, principally
because it proves to be anything but
ordinary as PM discovered for us on his
lab bench [see p49 and boxout]. You see,
thanks to its design, which uses a pair of
Class D amp modules for each channel, the
PM-10 delivers nearly three times its rated
200W! Surely this is the amplifier for which
the term ‘effortless’ was coined.
As you can see from our ‘top off’ shot
[facing page], what’s going on inside
here isn’t quite what
you’d expect to find
inside an amplifier like
this – the largest board
is the balanced preamp
section, over to the right
and toting the usual
Marantz Hyper-Dynamic
Amplifier Modules
(HDAMs). Meanwhile the power amp
section is relatively compact, using a pair
of bridged Hypex Ncore NC500 modules –
one pushing, the other pulling – for each
channel. Separate power supplies are
used for each of the power amp channels
‘Yes, Marantz’s
PM-10 will do
the “thunderamp
is go” thing’
BUILDING BRIDGES
Looking at Marantz’s promotional literature for the PM-10 amplifier, I rather
suspect that the 200W/8ohm and 400W/4ohm specification was earmarked
long before its engineers actually got to work on the design [see Lab Report,
p49]. The PM-10’s fully balanced preamp and bridged power amp may have been
inspired by the MA-9 monoblocks from 2003, but its execution is very different.
Inside the PM-10 a switchmode PSU feeds a pair of Hypex Ncore NC500 Class D
amplifier modules per channel, one positive-going the other negative-going, in
bridged form. This is a first for Marantz and it endows the PM-10 with distinctive
qualities, separating it from previous models like the PM-KI Pearl and Pearl Lite
[HFN Sep ’09/’12], PM-15S2 [Dec ’11], PM-11S3 [Feb ’13] and PM-14 [Oct ’15].
The bridged output confers a higher voltage to support 8/4ohm loads (where
it delivers a massive 600W) but without a corresponding uplift in current, output
drops into lower impedances. Most bridged Class D types suffer from a loaddependent frequency response (changing with your choice of speaker), but the
inbuilt compensation on each Hypex Ncore module ensures a more consistent
and predictable performance [see p36]. It’s a sophisticated design, and ‘clean’
too, with far lower noise than most contemporary Class D amplifiers. PM
ABOVE: The ‘porthole’ display harks back to
past Marantz models, and the total simplicity
of the PM-10’s fascia layout is indicative of its
no-frills, purposeful internal design
and the preamp, with a fourth for the
microprocessor that controls volume
adjustment and input selection.
EFFORTLESS POWER
It’s an unusual product, but as both PM’s
lab results and my listening sessions made
clear, indisputably a highly successful
one, while at the same time still paying
homage to the fundamental design of the
amplifier system it’s been built to replace.
This is much more than just another ‘big
integrated’, and having spent some time
using it with a couple of very accomplished
speaker designs – my reference PMCs and
the excellent Q Acoustics Concept 500
[HFN Jul ’17] – I found my admiration for it
growing almost with every track played.
Indeed, the Q Acoustics speakers were
used for the Marantz 10 Series launch in
Dec ’16, and it’s not hard to hear why. The
amp and the speakers work exceptionally
well together, and with the Marantz SA-10
also in harness, the result is a system much
greater than the sum of its parts.
That the player and amplifier were
conceived to work together is very clear,
but whether using the SA-10 as the source
or my usual Naim NDS/555 PS combination,
the big, bold and yet beautifully controlled
presentation of the Marantz amplifier was
readily apparent. And while the majority of
my listening was with digital sources, the
PM-10 is equally impressive when playing
LPs through its phono stage, with excellent
warmth and generosity of sound, allied to
fine detail delivery.
What’s most striking about the PM-10
is the way it manages to present all the
‘hi-fi things’, including soundstaging, focus,
detail and a seemingly limitless dynamic
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 47
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The rPlay is the best upgrade any music lover can make to an existing hi-fi.
Visit your nearest Arcam dealer to hear more.
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LAB
REPORT
MARANTZ PM-10
ABOVE: Two balanced (XLR) ins are joined by three single-ended line ins, one MM
phono and a tape (recorder) loop on RCAs. The 4mm speaker binding posts offer A/B
stereo and bi-amp operation. Wired remote supports system integration
range, while at the same time
indisputably having the ‘boogie
factor’, and not just with obviously
rhythm-driven music.
That said, it does play the rocky
stuff to thrilling effect, as is clear
right from the explosive opening
of Blondie’s Pollinator set [BMG
538263402; 88.2kHz/24-bit Qobuz
download]. Yes, it helps that the
album is clearly a triumph, right
from the moment Clem Burke’s
drums cannon into action, but the
way the PM-10 powers out those
addictive hooks and Debbie Harry’s
still-delicious voice with clarity and
real punch drags one straight into
the music and won’t let go.
TOTAL UNFLAPPABILITY
But then this amplifier has that
ability with just about everything
you choose to play through it. It’s
not just a matter of getting out of
the way of the music and letting it
communicate, but rather an assured
handling of the signals passing
through it that brings out all the
magic of a great performance.
Play the glorious Budapest
Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer
recording of Mahler’s Symphony No
3 [Channel Classics CCS SA 38817;
DSD256] and the sense of the
orchestra and the space in which it’s
playing is remarkable. Change scale
to the more intimate live recording
of Brahms’s String Sextets by Renaud
Capuçon et al from last year’s Aix
Easter Festival [Erato 9029588837;
96kHz/24-bit Qobuz download] and
the atmosphere adds to the superb
playing to striking effect.
Each instrument is clearly defined
and placed with precision, but
above all what this amplifier does
is exercise all that control without
any sense of the music being held
in check. Instead it’s allowed to
flow from the speakers, the power
here being employed as much in
delivering the speed, rhythmic
acuity and ‘microdynamic openness’
of the music as effectively as shaking
your sofa.
Yes, the PM-10 will do the
‘thunderamp is go’ thing when
required, driving speakers cleanly
to very silly levels indeed should
that be required. But what’s more
impressive about it is the ease with
which it goes about the ‘sensible
levels’ job, always with that sense of
having plenty in reserve, and a total
unflappability. This isn’t a smaller
Marantz amp writ large, or even a
high-end amplifier tamed.
Instead the PM-10 manages to
combine extremely high levels of
performance with all the docility
and ease of use of one of the
company’s £500 mass-market
models. There’s no tweakery or
precise set-up required to get the
best out of this amplifier, but rather
performance ‘on tap’ – all the hard
work has been done for you. That
may not appeal to those who prefer
to fiddle and adjust before sitting
down and listening to their music,
but when was the last time you took
a screwdriver to the carburettor
before going out for a drive?
I’ve already suggested that Marantz’s 200W/8ohm and 400W/
4ohm specification for the PM-10 is pretty meaningless – but
it’ll be fun to see the figures quoted parrot-fashion in almost
every other review! In practice, the bridged Ncore NC500 Class
D amps (rated by Hypex at 700W/4ohm in single channel guise)
offer sufficient volts to maintain 625-610W from 8 down to
4ohm loads (not indefinitely) and 710-605W from 8 to 4ohm
under dynamic conditions. Marantz would need a mighty PSU to
maintain this into 2 and 1ohm [see the D’Agostino Progression
Mono, HFN Jun ’17] so the drop to 325W and 175W here simply
reflects the 13.3A current limit [see Graph 1, below]. Still, the
PM-10 is nothing short of highly capable and will drive any likely
partnering speaker without raising a bead of sweat.
Moreover, its global feedback, extending beyond the
low-pass filter network, delivers a flat 0.01-0.02ohm source
impedance from 20Hz-20kHz and, unlike traditional bridged
Class D amps, ensures the PM-10’s response does not change
with every change in loudspeaker (impedance). There is an
inherent ‘sweetening’ high treble roll-off amounting to –0.7dB/
20kHz (–5.8dB/100kHz) into 8ohm but this holds to 1ohm
where a further filter pole at ~54kHz is revealed. Distortion is
well managed too, staying within Marantz’s 0.005% spec. at
0.0013-0.004% over the full rated 200W bandwidth, increasing
thereafter to 0.006%/300W, 0.008%/400W and 0.02%/500W
through the midband. THD (plus noise) increases at high
frequency and is typically 10x higher at 20kHz [see Graph 2,
below]. In more general terms the PM-10 offers a sensibly
limited +33dB overall gain (balanced in) and a very wide – by
typical Class D standards – 91dB A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBW). PM
ABOVE: Dynamic power output vs. distortion into
8ohm (black trace), 4ohm (red), 2ohm (blue) and
1ohm (green) loads. Max current is 13.3A at <1% THD
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Moving from a separate preamp/
power amp to a one-box solution
for its reference model might
seem like a retrograde step for
Marantz, but the PM-10 offers
an exceptionally high standard
of performance in a luxurious,
user-friendly package. Its massive
power and clean, clear sound
allies with a generous warmth
to make a wide range of music
captivating. It carries its serious
clout lightly and uses it deftly.
Sound Quality: 88%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: Distortion (and noise) versus extended
frequency from 5Hz-40kHz at 10W/8ohm
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Power output (<1% THD, 8/4ohm)
625W / 610W
Dynamic power (<1% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm)
710W / 605W / 325W / 175W
Output impedance (20Hz–20kHz)
0.011-0.018ohm
Freq. resp. (20Hz–20kHz/100kHz)
–0.2dB to –0.6dB/–5.8dB
Input sensitivity (for 0dBW/200W)
64mV / 905mV (balanced)
A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBW/200W)
91.0dB / 114.1dB
Distortion (20Hz-20kHz, 10W/8ohm)
0.0012-0.032%
Power consumption (Idle/Rated o/p)
53W / 530W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
440x453x168mm / 21.5kg
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 49
NETWORK AUDIO LIBRARY
Network-enabled media storage device
Made by: Métronome Technologie, France
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
Telephone: 0208 971 3909
Web: www.metronome-technologie.com; www.absolutesounds.com
Price: £13,998
Métronome Music Centre 1
More than a little French flair is brought to this comprehensive and very user-friendly
all-in-one CD-ripping, network-attached music storage/digital audio player
Review: José Victor Henriques Lab: Paul Miller
ure enough, the market abounds
with numerous very affordable
network-attached storage devices,
and various of these are also
equipped with a disc drive and ripping
facility. By the same token there are many
plug-and-play USB DACs available that
‘do the job’ but that no self-respecting
audiophile would give house room. The
same goes for cables, of every stripe.
So the fact that specialist audio
companies are stepping into this otherwise
cost-focused void is perhaps no surprise.
Melco paved the way with its N1Z [HFN
Feb ’15] and N1A ‘music libraries’ [HFN
Aug ’15] right up to the new N1ZS20/2
[HFN Jun ’17]. The new, and long-awaited
Music Centre 1 (MC1) from French brand
Métronome is the latest entrant to this
embryonic market – although, and unlike
the Melcos, this particular ‘audiophile NAS’
comes complete with an integrated CD
drive and ripper.
S
SLEEK ’N’ STURDY
Measuring 450x115x435 (whd) and
weighing no less than 12kg – mainly thanks
to the heavy metal casework used and the
three PSU transformers housed within [see
PM’s boxout] – the MC1 is nothing if not
sturdily built. Yet it manages to look stylish
too. Internal storage is based on multiple
1TB SATA HDDs while the Schaffner-filtered
power supply boasts six independently
regulated lines. Mechanical noise was low,
but still audible in the quiet of the night.
The casework is damped internally in
a bid to avoid resonance, and is laterally
ventilated. Dominating the fascia to the
right is an iPhone-sized touchscreen while
to the left sits the CD slot. ‘Power’ and
‘Eject’ buttons in the middle complete the
clean look. A front USB input would have
been welcome, but on such a pretty face
it would look like a scar. Meanwhile, the
RIGHT: Métronome’s linear PSU design [far
right] feeds multiple 1TB SATA drives [up to 6TB,
centre], a slot-loading TEAC CD/DVD drive [top],
a digital I/O board [bottom] and microcontrollerbased server mainboard [top left]
50 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
unit sits well balanced atop three round,
flat feet to which you can add the supplied
Delrin cones for superior isolation.
To the rear of the MC1 can be found a
short Wi-Fi antenna, the Ethernet input,
two USB inputs for USB thumb drives or
external USB hard drives, one asynchronous
(DSD-ready) USB output to a DAC, one
each of AES/EBU, S/PDIF and optical Toslink
outputs, plus a mains socket and power
switch. Without an analogue output in
sight you’ll need an associated outboard
DAC to connect to a preamp, integrated or
headphone amplifier.
Before you connect the MC1 using an
Ethernet cable you have to switch the unit
on and follow the set-up steps shown on
the touchscreen. All that’s needed then is
to download the free app for Android or
iOS, accept and validate the device via the
screen and you are ready to go.
FILE STREAMING
According to the manual, the MC1’s USB
type B input can handle FLAC, WAV, DSF,
DFF, OGG and MP3 formats along with
high-res files up to 384kHz/32-bit. I found
that the unit can also read from a storage
device and stream AIFF files and MQA
encoded FLACs to an external DAC, which
the manual surprisingly fails to mention.
Of course, the MC1 also plays CDs
or rips them in WAV or FLAC format –
there’s a Teac DV-W28SS-VM5 mechanism
inside – with the automatic recovery of
all tags, including cover and artwork. It
also reads USB thumb drives and is able to
create playlists from high-res music stored
internally or on an external hard drive or
NAS, though the latter requires a computer.
The MC1 will also stream music over
your home network, either via Ethernet
or the supplied wireless antenna, from
portable devices and
DLNA-compatible
smartphones. However,
unlike some of the MC1’s
rivals, there’s no support
for either Tidal or Spotify.
As I mentioned, there
are many streamers/CD
rippers on the market
today that offer the same features as the
MC1 – and more – and for a fraction of the
price. The Innuos Zenith II, now in Special
Edition guise, comes to mind, even though
it doesn’t have a touchscreen display. But
both the modest Korean Cocktail Audio
X30 and Bluesound Vault 2 include an
internal DAC and come in at a fraction of
the price of the MC1. And both also rip CDs
and support Tidal! Furthermore, you can
enjoy the same functions the MC1 offers
using a PC, NAS device and JRiver Media
Server software that costs 50 bucks.
Truth be told, I use an Oppo transport
when playing my CDs but I wish it were a
Métronome Calypso. We’ve all heard the
argument that bits are bits and CDs sound
the same no matter what we play them
on, right? Well, even when things have the
appearance of being equal, some audio
devices are clearly more equal than others.
Liberty, equality and fraternity
notwithstanding, being rich gives you a
head start when it comes to enjoying the
finer things in life. And
the Métronome MC1
is a gourmet music
server that makes the
dégustation of ‘virtual’
media a thorough
pleasure. If you can’t
tell the difference
between French cuisine
and fast food, then by all means go for a
hamburger instead.
The MC1 is like a Captain’s Log in which
you record the navigation notes you need
to sail your oceans of music – no matter the
vastness of your collection. You no longer
require a sextant to locate your music
now it is no longer physical. Métronome’s
touchscreen display, or a smartphone
and the free app downloadable from the
Google and Apple stores will guide you by
the (pop) stars.
And for those who might, perhaps
with some justification, reject the MC1
as just another French fashion industry
‘Ola Gjeillo’s
piano sounded
gorgeous on
“North Country II”’
DIGITAL WITH FLAIR
A glance across at our ‘lid off’ photograph instantly reveals the bright blue,
Talema brand encapsulated mains transformers that we’ve seen at the heart of
other Métronome products [see CD8 player, HFN Jun ’16]. Unlike the compact
Melco ‘music libraries’ which employ switchmode PSUs, Métronome has always
employed substantial linear PSUs in all its digital audio products. No fewer
than three transformers are used here, feeding separate power supplies for the
storage bay (the 1TB SATA drive can be upgraded to 6TB with the option of HDD
or SSD types), the CD/DVD drive and main processor. The latter, a Freescale iMX6
processor from NXP, is buried under the heatsink on the main PCB and includes
Ethernet and USB controllers plus a Neon ‘Media Processor Engine’. This board
is connected via USB and Ethernet hubs to the back panel interface board and –
importantly – to a separate USB-to-S/PDIF format converter driving these more
conventional digital outputs. Métronome proudly claims to have developed
‘100% of the electronics and software’ within the MC1, including the modified
Linux OS and the custom control app. PM
ABOVE: Elegant but deceptively simple, the
slot-loading drive will read and/or rip your CDs
while the colour touchscreen allows direct and
instant access to your stored music library
product, take it from me that it sure looks
and sounds better than most, despite not
having any ‘analogue sound’ of its own.
In practice, the performance also
depends on the DAC used, but somehow
the MC1 manages to improve DAC
performance, lowering jitter to vanishing
levels (see PM’s Lab report, p53). One final
note is that the unit plays DSD via USB only.
SMOOTH OPERATOR
For the listening I used an iFi Audio micro
iDSD DAC, a Chord Mojo headphone amp/
DAC [HFN Jan ’16] – as used by PM for
his lab work – and a Meridian Explorer
V2 headphone amp/DAC, either hooked
up directly to a pair of Hifiman HE1000
headphones, or connected via analogue
interconnects to a McIntosh MHA100
headphone amplifier. This also doubled as
a stereo amplifier to drive a pair of Sonus
faber Concertino loudspeakers.
Opening the MC1 library I discovered
that it already contained two albums:
Rachelle Ferrell by the American soul
singer of the same name, released in
1992 [Capitol Records CDP 7 93769 2]
and Intime by Christophe from 2014
[Capitol Music France 377 678-4], the
latter recorded in a Paris studio before a
small and ‘intimate’ audience, as its title
suggests. Both sets sounded smooth and
analogue-like at Red Book sample rates.
Indeed, the ambience on Intime and the
sound of clapping was particularly natural.
The manual states that the MC1 ‘rips CD
tracks in high-resolution files (lossless WAV
files, 16-bits/192kHz)’. So I ripped a CD
of Philip Catherine’s Transparence album
[Inak 8701 CD] in WAV format (you can
opt for FLAC to save space). The CD took a
good ten minutes to rip, ‘due to multiple
verifications’ according to Métronome.
Once finished, the album was visible
in the Library with album cover and titles.
And there was no ‘upsampling’ whatsoever.
Plain 44.1kHz/16-bit Red Book stuff.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 51
LAB
REPORT
NETWORK AUDIO LIBRARY
MÉTRONOME MUSIC CENTRE 1
ABOVE: No analogue outs as the Métronome MC1 offers wireless and wired network
access, two USB ports to read from external drives, one USB out for connection to an
offboard USB DAC, S/PDIF out on coax and Toslink optical plus balanced AES/EBU
When played via the MC1 the
copy was barely distinguishable from
the CD played on an Oppo BDP-95EU
transport using the same iFi Audio
micro iDSD DAC. At times I even
thought it sounded better, though
perhaps I was being influenced by
the jitter results detailed in PM’s
Lab report, having read this before I
began my listening.
GOT MY MOJO WORKING
To test the high-res capabilities of
the MC1, I changed to the Chord
Mojo. Not because the iFi Audio
micro iDSD couldn’t cope with the
task. In fact it goes all the way up
to native DSD512. The reason for
the switch was that the Mojo’s LED
buttons with their bright rainbow
colours (they have an uncanny
resemblance to a chameleon’s
eyeballs) make it easier to check a
file’s native resolution at a glance.
For sceptics of the virtues of
higher-resolution files I usually throw
in Rachel Podger & Brecon Baroque
playing the Largo from Bach’s
Concerto For Two Violins BWV 1043
at 44.1kHz, 96kHz, 192kHz and DSD
[Channel Classics CCS SA34113].
The Mojo duly turned sequentially
‘Red’ in the face, then ‘Green’ –
perhaps with envy (what wonderful
violin playing!) – then felt ‘Blue’ as
expected and finally got ‘Pink’ with
pleasure. Not White (Mojo’s DSD
indication)? Does the MC1 stream
DSD as PCM I wondered? I decided
to explore this matter further, even
though I suspected it might be due
to the Mojo’s DOP conversion.
I also have Mahler’s Symphony
No 3, Budapest Fest Orch/Iván
Fischer from Native DSD [JLBFO
Mahler3, ID:1720; Channel Classics
CCSSA38817], as DSD64, DSD128,
DSD256 and DXD downloads. The
Mojo stayed ‘Pink’ (352kHz) every
time whatever the file sample rate,
even at Quad DSD, while the DXD
file prompted the ‘Violet’ indication
of LPCM at 384kHz.
However, the iFi Audio micro iDSD
clearly indicated the presence of
DSD256 with its pin-point ‘Blue’ LED.
I concluded that the MC1 streams
DSD as native DSD while the DACs
‘live in a box of paints’, to quote Joni
Mitchell in the song ‘A Case Of You’.
I could drink a case of Métronome
and still be on my feet.
What about MQA-encoded FLAC
files? Both ‘North Country II’ – a
96kHz track by Ola Gjeilo from the
album Stone Rose [2L-048] – and the
DXD ‘Mozart: Violin Concertos, D
Major Allegro’, by Marianne Thorsten
& Trondheimsolistene [2L-038MQA2016] received the red flag
from Chord’s Mojo, which does not
support MQA decoding, indicating a
baseband 44.1kHz file.
However, replacing this with a
Meridian Explorer V2, the latter’s
blue LED immediately certified
the file as ‘Master Quality Audio’,
and Ola Gjeillo’s piano sounded
gorgeous at the unpacked sample
rate of 96kHz, while the DXD file
was unfolded to 192kHz – the
maximum sample rate the Explorer
V2 can muster.
Bearing in mind the similarity in the data storage/delivery
‘role profile’ of Métronome’s MC1 and Melco’s N1ZS20/2
[HFN Jun ’17] a technical comparison between the two,
and conventional NAS or PC/Mac USB solutions, has proved
very instructive indeed. Performance is best inferred via an
attached streaming player or DAC, however a USB DAC with
excellent data recovery/reclocking may not express a significant
difference in S/N or jitter. Similarly, a DAC with high levels
of inherent jitter will suffer the same distortion sidebands
regardless of the coherence of the digital data at its input.
Typically, it’s the semi-portable USB hub-powered DAC/
headphone amp solutions that provide us with the best
indicator of incoming data integrity and circulating noise.
So, driven directly from Métronome’s USB audio output iFi
Audio’s micro iDSD, which already benefits from a fine jitter
rejection (~140psec), was improved to <10psec [see Graph 1,
below]. Moreover, there was a worthwhile gain in A-wtd S/N to
108.3dB, suggesting the MC1/iDSD exercises some superiority
over the N1ZS20/iDSD tested last month.
Combining the MC1 with Oppo’s HA-2SE [HFN Dec ’16]
also bested the Melco/Oppo pairing’s A-wtd S/N ratio by 1dB
(to 101.9dB) while jitter fell from 460psec to 275psec. Again,
the MC1/RHA Dacamp L1’s S/N improved by another 1dB to
104.3dB and jitter to <10psec, as did the MC1/NuForce μDAC5
at 101.6dB and <10psec. However, while the Métronome MC1
seemed to improve on the Melco N1ZS20/2 in terms of S/N and
correlated jitter, the same analysis also resolved a cluster of
(very low-level) uncorrelated interference around 12.8kHz. This
is just visible on Graph 1 but much more obvious with the RHA
Dacamp L1 and Chord Mojo [black, Graph 2] where, ironically, it
is exposed by the impressive reduction in white noise. PM
ABOVE: 48kHz/24-bit jitter spectra from an iFi Audio
iDSD DAC – ‘standard’ FIR filter – over USB (red, via
standard PC) and direct (black, via Métronome MC1)
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
The Metronome Music Centre
One does not have a sound of
its own, so it’s inevitably hard
to evaluate its performance.
Nevertheless, as PM’s Lab
Report report reveals, the MC1
is certainly capable of making
associated DACs sound better due
to a reduction in jitter. Though
not without quibbles, in some
ways this might very well be the
best digital ‘transport’ money can
buy – albeit at a Dior price.
Sound Quality: 87%
0
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-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: 48kHz/24-bit jitter spectra from a batterypowered Chord Mojo over USB (red, via standard PC)
and direct (black, via Métronome MC1)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Data inputs
Wireless/Wired LAN (1000BASE-T)
Digital audio outputs
USB 2.0, AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink
Digital jitter (IFi Audio iDSD BL)
<10psec (140psec via PC USB)
Digital jitter (Chord Mojo)
<10psec (85psec via PC USB)
Power consumption
24W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
450x115x435mm / 12kg
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 53
CARTRIDGE
Moving-coil pick-up cartridge
Made by: Clearaudio Electronic GmbH, Germany
Supplied by: Sound Fowndations, UK
Telephone: 0118 981 4238
Web: www.clearaudio.de; www.soundfowndations.co.uk
Price: £960
Clearaudio MC Essence
Will this tickled-up version of Clearaudio’s popular Concept moving-coil lift its sound to
a new level? That’s certainly the ambition, and without busting the £1k barrier
Review: Adam Smith Lab: Paul Miller
uring the heyday of vinyl, 50
or so years ago, it was rare to
find a manufacturer that made
turntables, arms and cartridges,
rather than outsourcing production of
at least one of these to a third party. It
is therefore even more surprising to find
that one or two companies have actually
diversified into this rare position.
The most prolific manufacturer of this
kind has to be Clearaudio, whose new
£960 moving-coil design, the MC Essence,
is the latest in a long line of models that
can trace their heritage back many years.
Interestingly, though, the MC Essence
is not a new range-topper, but a design
which aims to build on the strengths of
the company’s most affordable movingcoil while still keeping the price below the
important four-digit barrier.
D
MAKING IT BETTER
Of course, such a job is easier when you
have a good starting point, and the MC
Concept, launched in 2010, was very much
a solid foundation on which to build [HFN
Apr ’11]. As it happens, the Concept is
also a particular favourite pick-up of mine
and so I was keen to find out how the MC
Essence would improve on its relative.
One of Clearaudio’s mottos has always
been ‘take the best and make it better’
and this must have been the aim here.
However, for those who look to compare
specifications, they might be a little
disappointed, since the Concept
and Essence share a remarkably
similar set. In fact, the only real
differences are that the Essence
turns in slightly better figures for
crosstalk and channel balance [but
see PM’s Lab Report, p57].
However, as is so often the case,
the manufacturer’s specifications
don’t reveal the whole story so
RIGHT: This shot clearly shows
Clearaudio’s rigid boron cantilever with
a fine, micro-line stylus firmly cemented
into place [see magnified shot, overleaf].
Note the substantial magnet assembly
54 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST
GUST
T 2017
perhaps the MC Essence is best thought
of as a more tightly toleranced version of
the Concept. This is not a new approach
with earlier examples including the Bang
& Olufsen MMC1, which was merely a
better specified MMC2, and Sony’s original
XL55Pro, which was a hand-selected
version of the standard XL55.
As a result, the MC Essence is still based
around Clearaudio’s tried-and-tested
aluminium/magnesium alloy
body. This is then covered
in a thin ceramic coating
that’s left in a natural
(clear) finish, contrasting
with the matt black of the
original MC Concept.
Internally, the generator
assembly is wound using
OFC copper wire and the business end of
things comprises a boron cantilever and
Clearaudio’s micro-line stylus. All of these
components are hand selected, however,
to result in a cartridge that should offer
a performance that is much closer to its
notional specification. The overall cartridge
weight is 8g and the generator’s
output impedance is
11ohm, suggesting
that a load
impedance of 100ohm upwards will be
appropriate with your choice of partnering
MC phono stage.
EASILY ALIGNED
A key feature of the MC Essence is its body
styling. This is a solid, chunky construction
and a world away from the exposed-stylus
look of Clearaudio’s more expensive
designs, for which I was grateful. Fitting
and aligning Clearaudio’s
Goldfinger Statement
[HFN Jan ’15] was one
of the more nervewracking experiences
of my reviewing career!
Furthermore, there are
threaded holes in the
substantial lugs flush with
the top of the body to make mounting easy
and eliminate the need for fiddling with
additional nuts and washers.
In addition, the rectangular shape
makes alignment in the headshell easy, and
although the stylus tip is rather set back
under the body, a line on the front of the
cartridge indicates its position and makes
cueing easy. Finally, the well shielded stylus
also makes fitting the stylus guard
much easier than on Clearaudio’s
costlier models.
‘The MC
Essence offers
an almost CDlike precision!’
ALWAYS SECURE
For evaluation, I fitted the
MC Essence to my SME
309 tonearm mounted
on a Michell Gyro SE
turntable, and plugged
it into an Anatek MC1
phono stage, set to offer a
100ohm load.
The recommended
optimum tracking force is
quoted as 2.2g and, during
my set-up I did find this to
give the best results. Anything
heavier and the midband became
a little ‘thick’ sounding, whereas
reducing the downforce added a
slightly brittle quality to the treble.
With the MC Essence installed and
LEFT:
L
The two-part magnesium/
aluminium alloy body has a tough
‘ceramic’ (oxide) finish and includes fullyenclosed, threaded lugs that ensure the
Essence MC can be cranked tight into
any standard headshell
confident sound. One caveat here,
how
however,
relates to dust and general
sur
surface
dirt – when the MC Essence
en
encountered
this, the ‘pop’ through the
lo
loudspeakers
could be quite alarming.
P
Potential
purchasers should ensure that
t
their
vinyl is scrupulously clean, or that
t
they
have suitable funds allocated for
reg
regular
trips to a record cleaning machine!
AGILE
AG
AND FULSOME
given time to ‘run-in’, I ffound
und that it had a
familiar Clearaudio cartridge trait, in that
time spent optimising all the arm settings,
including both VTA and azimuth, really
was a prerequisite. It is much less forgiving
in this respect than other similarly-priced
offerings from the likes, say, of Ortofon.
The MC Essence merely sounds a little
indifferent until finely tuned. Otherwise
you might be tempted to conclude that
you are hearing the cartridge as its maker
intended. Unfortunately, there is a good
chance that you’re probably not. So take
your time and double-check everything –
the results are more than worth it.
All that said, the MC Essence did prove
much less finicky than the Goldfinger
Statement, which could sound quite
disappointing until the perfect balance of
all parameters was found, whereupon it
snapped into life.
Once correctly aligned, the MC Essence
soon announces itself as something rather
special. It has an alluring sense of dynamic
propulsion and makes performances really
come to life. Changing to the MC Essence
from my regular Audio-Technica AT-33PTG/II
seemed to bring the music out of its shell
a little more. Bass lines became more
confident, singers more expansive and
instruments better focused. In some ways,
the MC Essence could be said to have a
certain CD-like quality to its presentation,
given the way in which it excels at detail
and clarity.
Helping all of this by a good margin was
the MC Essence’s excellent
tracking performance.
Its secure tracking
of the most highly
modulated grooves
confers an equally
ALWAYS INNOVATING
Clearaudio’s cartridge history extends back beyond the formal
launch of the company and involves a number of technical
innovations. The first of these was in 1974 with founder Peter
Suchy’s development of the Paroc (parabolic oval cone) stylus in
conjunction with Dr Ernst Weinz. The same year, boron was utilised
as a cantilever material while its Trygon stylus, an early line-contact profile,
followed a year later. Clearaudio’s first cartridge, the MCIS, was patented in 1976
and released two years later, when the company was formed.
Cartridge development continued, culminating in the release of the famous
1980s models including the MC-7, and later Gamma, Delta and Pradikat models.
These were notable for their ‘hammerhead shark’ appearance, which was
necessitated by the symmetrical arrangement of the four magnets within.
Sleeker bodies appeared in the Victory and Discovery models of 1999 and 2000
respectively, and the current 12-lobed ‘flower’ design of the top models was
introduced on the Concerto in 2005.
With
W a suitably pristine copy of Julia
Fordham’s
Fo
eponymous debut album [Circa
Records
R
JULIA 4], the MC Essence placed
the
t vocals of the track ‘Happy Ever After’
absolutely
a
rock-solid centre stage. The
percussion
p
at the start of the track was
taut,
t
snappy and crisp, and the following
bass notes were deep and fulsome. All
too often I have heard them sound rather
uncontrolled and so with a slight tendency
to outstay their welcome, but with the MC
Essence this was not the case.
In fact, it turned out to be something
of a master at the low end. It picked up
on bass lines like a bloodhound following
a scent and always made sure the music’s
pulse was perfectly judged. It never thrust
bass lines too far forward to dominate but,
equally, ensured that they were not lost in
the depths of a busier mix. This is a tricky
balancing act and I have only previously
heard much more expensive
cartridges really pull the trick off.
That the Clearaudio MC Essence
can hold its head high in this
respect speaks volumes for its
generator design.
Time spent with the
cartridge also showed the
strong central image stability
noted on the Julia Fordham
track was not a one-off event.
Clearaudio has struck gold in the
MC Essence as, no doubt by a dint of its
optimised construction, its stereo imaging
is magnificently focused. As indicated by
PM’s Lab Report [p57], there is rather little
soundstaging beyond the lateral confines
of the speakers, where other competitors
can offer slightly more expanded widths.
Yet what is left in the middle is never
anything less than impressive and can be
quite breathtaking on occasion.
Playing the new recording of Hans
Theessink, Live At Jazzland [SommelierAUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 55
LAB
REPORT
CLEARAUDIO MC ESSENCE
LEFT
LEFT:
T: Ano
Another view of the
Clearaudio
Clear
raudio MC Essence’s
precisely
preci
isely a
aligned boron
cantilever
canti
ilever and robust alloy
body.
body
y. The cartridge pins are
gold-plated
gold-plate and sufficiently wellspaced
space
ed to accommodate most
tonearm
tonea
arm lleads/tags
du-son SDS 0016-1]
0016-1], showed that
the MC Essence is an absolute
marvel when it comes to fine detail.
The acoustic guitar strings were
razor-sharp in both clarity and
imaging, with a delicious ‘bite’. The
Clearaudio MC Essence projected the
performance beautifully and set up a
truly grand sense of scale.
BITE AND RESOLUTION
It also proved itself to be more than
happy with material that was a little
softer and more atmospheric. My
use of the word ‘razor’ might start
alarm bells ringing for some readers,
implying a sometimes strident treble.
However, this is rarely the case with
the MC Essence. While it is true that
it does have a lift in output at the
top end [again, see PM’s Lab Report],
this merely serves to ensure that its
detail retrieval is first-class.
There was rarely any particular
sense that it was imparting an
artificial brightness to the music,
and at no time did its treble sound
stinging or unpleasant, but brightlyrecorded or compressed-sounding
LPs were nonetheless revealed as
such. Otherwise, the MC Essence
typically had a way of digging out
low-level details in the music and
making sure they were heard, while
also maintaining the more prominent
features of a recording.
A case in point here was Sade’s
version of Timmy Thomas’s ‘Why
Can’t We Live Together?’ from her
Diamond Life LP [Epic EPC 26044].
The percussion at the start of the
track was snappy and tight, and
projected out into my listening
room with an enjoyable energy.
As the bass line, vocals and guitar
joined the party, each found its own
space within a distinctly uncluttered
soundstage. Every aspect of the
track stood out in glorious clarity,
but the MC Essence also had a knack
of knitting everything together to
create a truly special whole.
As a rule, I found I could zero in
on all the principal instruments of a
recording with ease. Equally, I could
just as readily sit back, relax and
revel in the insightful and inherently
very appealing sound of this new,
and relatively affordable, movingcoil. For many, it will make the
perfect vinyl upgrade.
Despite the adoption of superior OFC wiring, etc, the core
performance of the MC Essence is still recognisably similar to
that of Clearaudio’s earlier Concept MC [HFN Apr ’11]. Output
remains the same at 410μV (re. 1kHz/5cm/sec) but the channel
balance has been tightened to 0.2dB. Similarly, the unequalised
distortion has been reduced from ~2.3% to ~1.8%, while
(equalised) distortion vs. frequency [Graph 2, below] indicates
a lower 0.3-0.4% through bass and lower midrange rising to
a moderate 3% at 10kHz. Importantly, the trend of THD vs.
frequency is clearly very consistent between L+R and L-R cuts,
suggesting its contribution to the ‘character’ of the MC Essence
will also remain consistent from strong central dialogue, for
example, out to peripheral backing instruments.
The sound balance, however, is very different. Again, like
the Concept, the MC Essence’s in-phase response is far bolder
and brighter [black trace, Graph 1] with a reinforced presence
band pushing central vocal material forward from the mix.
Vertical, out-of-phase, information [red trace] is more rolled-off,
reducing the vividness of far left/right soundstage detail despite
having a similar harmonic ‘colour’.
Otherwise, the micro-line contact stylus is accurately
mounted to achieve a 22o VTA and tracks like a dream. Both
left and right 80μm grooves were successfully navigated at
2.2g while distortion at +18dB (315Hz, re. 11.2μm) was a
mere 0.6%. Few low compliance MCs are such fine trackers, but
the Essence does not possess quite the ‘stiff’ 9cu compliance
suggested by Clearaudio. Instead, an asymmetric 12cu vertical
and 28cu lateral suggests the Essence is better suited to
medium rather than high effective mass tonearms. PM
ABOVE: Frequency response curves (–8dB re. 5cm/
sec) lateral (L+R, black) versus vertical (L–R, red)
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Clearaudio’s new MC Essence
builds on the strengths of the
lower-cost MC Concept pick-up
to turn in a performance that is
right at the top of its class. The
Essence manages to be dynamic,
punchy and forthright, while
simultaneously offering up a
softness and delicacy that is most
appealing. Ultimately, it seems
that Clearaudio really has taken
one of its best moving-coils and
‘made it better’.
Sound Quality: 85%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: Lateral (L+R, black infill) and vertical (L–R, red)
tracing and generator distortion (2nd-4th harmonics)
vs. frequency from 20Hz-20kHz (–8dB re. 5cm/sec)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Generator type/weight
Moving-coil / 8g
Recommended tracking force
2.0-2.4mN (2.2mN)
Sensitivity/balance (re. 5cm/sec)
410μV / 0.21dB
Compliance (vertical/lateral)
12cu / 28cu
Vertical tracking angle
22 degrees
L/R Tracking ability
>80μm / >80μm
L/R Distortion (–8dB, 20Hz-20kHz)
0.4-12% / 0.3-8.2%
L/R Frequency resp. (20Hz-20kHz)
+1.6 to –3.9dB / +3.0 to –3.5dB
Stereo separation (1kHz / 20kHz)
33dB / 19dB
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 57
LOUDSPEAKER
Two-and-a-half-way floorstanding loudspeaker with rear ports
Made by: Dantax Radio A/S, Denmark
Supplied by: Decent Audio, Stockton-on-Tees
Telephone: 05602 054669
Web: http://scansonichd.dk; www.decentaudio.co.uk
Price: £5799
Scansonic MB-5
Always fancied the ‘Raidho ribbon sound’ but were
dissuaded by the price? Scansonic wants to help...
Review: Nick Tate Lab: Keith Howard
t’s a hard life being a £6000 speaker.
There’s no way out for those that are
found lacking – manufacturers cannot
blame the lack of budget, or the need
to build it down to a price. Many hi-fi
enthusiasts would regard this price-point
as being impossibly high-end, and even
serious aficionados will think it a pretty
penny. Competition is tough, both from
more budget brands doing their cost-noobject flagships, and high-end marques
making entry-level designs. In short, six
grand speakers risk being run over from
both sides of the road…
I
MINIMAL FOOTPRINT
Scansonic HD is the sister company
of respected high-end Scandinavian
loudspeaker specialist Raidho, and indeed
the MB-5 is made by the very same team
[see boxout, p59]. Your £5799 buys you
a certain family resemblance – especially
the ribbon tweeter and relatively narrow
front baffle. This two-and-a-half-way
Scansonic floorstander, however, takes the
‘small footprint’ idea about as far as it can
practically go, shrinking down the diameter
of its four conventional moving-coil drivers
to just 115mm.
It is second-from-top in the company’s
MB range, the flagship MB-6 having an
array of no fewer than six of these drive
units inset into its tall and thin front baffle.
For both midrange units and woofers,
designer Michael Børresen has gone for
a carefully profiled, ridged, dustcap-free
membrane made from woven carbon, said
to have optimal shape and stiffness.
Certainly this material is synonymous
with the latter characteristic, and has
found its way into a number of novel drive
units over the years. In my experience,
carbon tends to have satisfying speed
allied to a pleasingly neutral – even slightly
‘dark’ – tonality. In the MB-5, two of these
drivers handle bass frequencies up to
200Hz, and the other two (sitting either
side of the tweeter D’Appolito-style) work
in series to take care of the midrange up to
3.5kHz. This is a little higher than in many
floorstanders and keeps the crossover just
58 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
a wee bit further away from the region
where the ear is most sensitive [but see Lab
Report, p61]. The woofer, says Scansonic,
has an overhung magnet system, with a
long linear stroke.
The tweeter is no less innovative. It’s
a ribbon sporting what is claimed to be
an extremely light diaphragm, sealed
around its edges. It’s formed from a 20μm
Kapton-aluminium sandwich, with a quoted
mass of just 0.03g – which is said to be
approximately 50 times less than any
conventional textile, ceramic, beryllium
or diamond dome. This would suggest a
very high transient speed, low distortion
and coloration, although Raidho’s ribbon
tweeter fitted to the XT-1 [HFN Apr ’17]
seems to have a more powerful magnet.
The cabinet is an interesting affair too.
As previously pointed out, it’s unusually
narrow in order to make the speaker less
obtrusive in all those European townhouses
and city waterfront apartments in which it
will surely end up. That’s not to say it’s in
any way insubstantial though, for while it’s
not quite up in the heavyweight category
it’s extremely well constructed and could
pass for being milled from aluminium.
CARBON BRACING
Actually, it’s made from more conventional
material, but heavily braced and reinforced
by carbon, says Scansonic. The rear is
curved, as is the fashion, and sports three
small reflex ports while a single pair of
binding posts is fitted, so bi-wiring is not
an option. The speaker stands unusually
tall on its neat aluminium plinth with four
adjustable softly spiked feet, and weighs
a solid 24kg. Available in a choice of black
silk or white silk, the MB-5 is as superbly
finished as you would expect.
The MB-5 is a respectably sensitive
loudspeaker given its relatively limited
internal volume and low diameter drive
RIGHT: Twin 115mm carbon-fibre mid units
are arrayed above and below a custom ribbon
tweeter while a further pair of 115mm drivers
augment the bass output below 200Hz.
Outriggers help stabilise the tall, narrow cabinet
FAMILY AFFAIR
One of Denmark’s most prestigious loudspeaker brands, Raidho has a fine
reputation for its distinctive designs – but one could never call them especially
affordable. For that reason, when parent company Dantax Radio A/S took over
the company in 2009, it began to consider repackaging the marque’s design
expertise into something a little less esoteric. The result was the Scansonic HD
range, which is still a high-end brand by most people’s standards. Raidho design
chief Michael Børenssen’s thinking is no less apparent, with his beloved ribbon
tweeter playing a major part – although it has been produced with a greater
eye on cost than in the flagship Raidhos. Likewise, while still extremely capable,
the bass and midrange drivers are focused towards performance-at-the-price,
rather than outright ability. The Raidho team does the final voicing on Scansonic
speakers before the design is signed off, so the result is a not unexpectedly
familiar sound, albeit one that’s within better reach of more buyers.
units, but deep bass output is not its forte.
The upside is that – while it won’t shift vast
amounts of air on account of its waif-like
profile – it should work well in any listening
room. Its modest bass output is unlikely to
set off any room modes, especially when
used clear of boundaries, but there’s plenty
of scope for tuning. I used it slightly toedin, but the MB-5 isn’t overly directional and
sounds good across a wide angle.
from Congo Ashanti [Congos CD 21522].
This is a reggae track with a pulsating
bass, and while I’ve heard other similarly
priced boxes push out more low frequency
energy, attention is never drawn to the
constrained nature of the MB-5’s bottom
end. Instead, with its fine midband making
up the numbers, so to speak, you find
yourself focusing on the large amount of
detail coming through, and the tuneful way
in which it’s all strung together.
WELL-ROUNDED WINNER
Some £6000 loudspeakers set out to do
amazing things and only partially succeed
– if at all – whereas the Scansonic MB-5
goes instead for a more accomplished allround sound. It doesn’t wow you with its
incredible speed, power
or energy. Rather it’s
designed to let the music
speak for itself – and this
is how it works so well.
However, you soon
realise that this isn’t a
first choice for anyone
wishing to recreate
nightclub sound levels in their listening
room. Like every loudspeaker, it’s a prisoner
of its size and cannot produce a quart
from a pint pot, so maximum volume and
bass is limited. In many people’s domestic
surroundings none of this will be an issue,
and instead its slimline demeanour allied to
a very well rounded, accessible sound will
win listeners round.
Indeed, the MB-5 is rather sly in the way
it goes about making music: everything is
kept neatly ordered, under total control.
There’s no sense that it ever overreaches
itself, nor does it shine in one respect
and fail in others. This speaker sounds
impressively seamless and you’re never
aware of the multitude of drive units doing
their job. All is calm, easy, effortless and
as a result – highly satisfying. Take, for
example, The Congos’ ‘Days Chasing Days’
MARLEY’S LAZY GROOVE
Another reggae classic, this time ‘Waiting
In Vain’ from Bob Marley’s Exodus [Island
Records 548 898-2] delivered the same
result. I enjoyed the finely detailed and
highly percussive rhythm
guitar work, and didn’t
obsess on the relative
lack of low end bite.
That’s not to say the bass
isn’t tuneful however, for
the MB-5 is sufficiently
extended to carry the
bass guitar playing
convincingly as the bassist moved up and
down the frets in that wonderfully fluid
way. Maybe not feeling it in the back of my
chest, instead I found my attention drawn
to the lovely, lazy groove set up by the
hi-hat, snare and rhythm guitar playing.
There’s oodles of low level detail thrown up
that comes towards you like gentle waves
lapping at your feet.
The Congos track did show up a slight
boxiness to the bottom end – you’re
aware that you’re listening to a ported
loudspeaker whose cabinet isn’t as
exceptionally well braced as, for example,
a similarly tall Raidho. Keep the volume
at middle levels or below, and it’s not an
issue – you instead find yourself rather
enamoured by the smooth seamlessness
of everything, and the natural musical gait
that makes you want to keep listening.
‘I was drawn to
the lovely, lazy
groove set up by
hi-hat and guitar’
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 59
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LAB
REPORT
SCANSONIC MB-5
LEFT: The narrow, tapered cabinet
profile dictates the use of multiple reflex
ports while the single (rather than split)
crossover means one pair of 4mm cable
terminals and no bi-amping/wiring
loudspeakers cope with sub-par
recordings. The MB-5 did itself
proud – the track’s coarse treble was
rendered far less unpleasant by its
excellent ribbon tweeter.
CREAMILY SMOOTH
More impressive was the way all
this melted away into the midband
in a quiet, no-nonsense manner,
the tweeter providing a lovely ‘halo
effect’. The track’s rich and sonorous
male vocals were highly believable.
There was no sense of lumpiness,
nor did the singer sound as if he was
working his way through a bad cold.
Despite being the antithesis of an
audiophile recording, things were
creamily smooth.
I was struck, too, by this speaker’s
fine sense of scale – the De La Soul
track had an enjoyably ‘out of the
box’ sound with a large soundstage
and accurate imaging, something
that also shone through with
the polished progressive rock of
Camel’s ‘A Nod And A Wink’ from the
band’s eponymous album [Camel
Productions CP-013CD]. Substantially
better sonically, this track was
delivered in an immersive way, with
fine depth perspective and truly
three-dimensional sound.
Those carbon midrange drivers
finally had the chance to show how
open they can be, with a pleasingly
revealing nature. Overall, I was struck
by just how adept this loudspeaker is
at simply getting out of the way.
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
De La Soul’s ‘A Roller Skating
Jam Named “Saturdays”’ from the
CD single ‘Tommy Boy’ [Tommy
Boy Records TBCD 990] is a classic
hip-hop track based on an old
looped soul music sample. It’s hardly
the highest of fi, but it’s always
interesting to see how high-end
Unusually, the specification for the MB-5 does not include a
sensitivity figure. A modern floorstander of these dimensions
ought to achieve around 89dB for a pink noise input of 2.83V,
and our measurements show that the MB-5 actually exceeds
that, recording 89.8dB. Given that our ‘music shaped’ signal
elicited 90.4dB, the MB-5 can claim a genuine 90dB. Scansonic
also doesn’t specify a nominal impedance but says rather that
the impedance is always greater than 4ohm. Our impedance
measurement didn’t support this, the impedance modulus
falling to a minimum of 3.3ohm at 130Hz, entirely consistent
with a 4ohm nominal figure. Impedance phase angles are
moderately high, resulting in a minimum EPDR (equivalent peak
dissipation resistance) of 1.6ohm at a low 20Hz. This figure is
not atypical but the MB-5 also has dips to 1.7ohm at 118Hz
and 1.8ohm at 55Hz, suggesting that actually it presents a
tougher amplifier load than average.
The forward frequency response [Graph 1], measured on the
tweeter axis with grille removed, is distinctly uneven around
a flat trend overall, with a notable peak at 2.5kHz and narrow
notch at 7kHz. As a result, frequency response errors are high at
±5.7dB and ±5.9dB respectively. Pair matching over the same
200Hz-20kHz is also disappointing at ±2.0dB but is actually
very tight up to 3kHz (±0.3dB). Diffraction-corrected near-field
measurements showed the bass extension to be a high 62Hz
(–6dB re. 200Hz), so the MB-5 will benefit from judicious
placement relative to room boundaries. The cumulative
spectral decay waterfall [Graph 2] is clean apart from a
resonance associated with the 2.5kHz response peak. KH
ABOVE: The MB-5’s forward response is rather uneven
with an upper mid peak and depressed presence
dB
0.0
-6
1.0
- 12
2.0
- 18
8
3.0
- 24
4.0
- 30
5.0 msec
200
1000
10000
Scansonic HD’s MB-5 is a gifted
compact floorstander with a
neutral yet immersive sound
and a feel for the music’s natural
rhythm. It imposes little character
of its own, aside from its obvious
physical size limitations. There
are price rivals with deeper and
more gutsy bass, able to go louder
and with greater impact, yet few
can match this speaker’s mix of
engaging sound quality, roomfriendliness and superlative finish.
Sensitivity (SPL/1m/2.83Vrms – Mean/IEC/Music)
89.5dB/89.8dB/90.4dB
Impedance modulus min/max (20Hz–20kHz)
3.3ohm @ 130Hz
20.6ohm @ 83Hz
Impedance phase min/max (20Hz–20kHz)
–47o @ 98Hz
48o @ 70Hz
Sound Quality: 83%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
Frequency in Hz >>
ABOVE: Cabinet and driver resonances are well
damped apart from the peak at 2.5kHz [see response]
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Pair matching/Resp. Error (200Hz–20kHz)
±2.0dB / ±5.7dB/±5.9dB
LF/HF extension (–6dB ref 200Hz/10kHz)
62Hz / >40kHz/>40kHz
THD 100Hz/1kHz/10kHz (for 90dB SPL/1m)
0.7% / 0.4% / 0.2%
Dimensions (HWD)
1185x178x319mm
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 61
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
Hybrid tube/FET integrated amplifier. Rated at 100W/8ohm
Made by: Unison Research (A.R.I.A), Italy
Supplied by: Henley Designs Ltd, UK
Telephone: 01235 511166
Web: http://en.unisonresearch.com; www.henleydesigns.co.uk
Price: £3500
Unison Research Unico 90
A classic, no-frills, line-level-only tube/tranny hybrid integrated amplifier from Italy?
Unison Research’s beefcake Unico 90 says ‘Stop and smell the roses!’
Review: Ken Kessler Lab: Paul Miller
ometimes, ‘old school’ is exactly
the attitude that allows you to take
stock of what is happening. For us,
it’s an opportunity to reassess the
hi-fi landscape. For many there’s a longing
to brush away the plethora of streamingand storage-based hardware and acronyms
and gadgets that are turning the love of
music into a mere sideshow in computing.
Frankly, from my perspective the likes
of Tidal, MQA, Roon, et al, are simply
distractions that get between me and
Bonnie Raitt or Johnny Mercer or The Kinks.
And Unison Research’s Unico 90 agrees.
S
REVISITING OLD TIMES
If the ‘no frills’ in the sub-heading to this
review suggests a masochistic hair-shirt
approach, that would be misleading, as the
unit comes with a remote volume control
[see p65] and provides two XLR balanced
inputs. Moreover, it can be used as a power
amp or preamp-only, but otherwise it is
DAC- and phono-free, and the remote
control only operates volume (though it
will control a matching CD player) so this
£3500 100W-rated integrated amplifier is
as no-nonsense as an amp can be.
Still, Unison Research managed to
simplify its design without sacrificing an
iota of usefulness, practicality, flexibility
or pride-of-ownership – because it will do
everything you want, it looks luxurious and
the fit-and-finish are exemplary. The value is
to found on the inside.
Its standout quality among the
hundreds of integrated amplifiers between
£2500 and £5000 is that it’s a welcome
throwback to simpler times, and even the
price seems sensible in an era when people
don’t blink at £10k for a piece of wire. You
can have it in black or silver, but other than
that, what you see is what you get. It is so
sensible and ‘correct’ that, once you’ve
manhandled its 20kg bulk and positioned
RIGHT: Two secondary windings on a single
toroidal transformer supply the PSU for this
dual-mono amplifier, featuring three triode
tubes in its voltage/driver stage and three pairs
of HEXFETs power transistors on heatsinks
62 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
it, you will have it up and running in a
minute… and 40 seconds of that will be
muted warm-up time.
At the front are rotaries for input
selection and volume, on either side of
banks of LEDs that indicate the chosen
source. The bottom LEDs blink while the
amplifier undergoes warm-up. At the back,
the two sets of speaker terminals allow for
bi-wiring, and all of the inputs and outputs
are solid, gold-plated RCAs, with two pairs
of XLR balanced inputs grouped to the
right. An IEC mains input, and an on/off
rocker on the right hand side of the unit
complete the arrangement.
When you switch on, there’s a light
show inside, including the glow of the gain
stages’ ECC83 and ECC81 double-triode
valves – three per channel. Unison Research
has never scrimped on tube quality, so
swapping the valves for aftermarket luxury
types will probably not achieve much of an
improvement. On the other hand, these
define the valve-y sound of the Unico
90, so – if you’re of a perverse mien and
‘valves’ to you means ‘fat, soft and rich’ –
you might alter the character of this amp
with NOS period Mullards or Brimars, etc.
As for the output, we’re into FET
territory – the valve/MOSFET combination
has been a favoured solution for hybrid
amp builders for years, and the overall
character is, as you and they would hope,
an ideal halfway house between a vintage
tube sound and dry-as-a-bone tranny
tightness [see PM’s boxout, adjacent].
The Unico 90’s internal construction
is mainly dual-mono save for the massive,
shared power transformer. The lid-off shot
here [below] shows the massive heatsinks,
and I barely got this to feel any warmer
than one expects of the areas directly
above the valves. The layout and the
crosspiece add to structural rigidity, but I
wouldn’t stop you if you were prone to use
flux dumpers or other weights on top of
your hardware.
SIGNATURE SILKINESS
Unison Research has chosen an ALPS
potentiometer for its volume control
while input switching is
achieved through ‘purely
mechanical miniature
relays’ – the XLR inputs
being truly balanced. So
I fed the balanced signal
from a Marantz CD12
DAC stage into these with
wiring by Crystal Cable
and Transparent, and YTER speaker cables
between the Unico 90, KEF LS50s [HFN
Jul ’12] and Spendor 11ohm LS3/5As. As
advised by PM, I let the amp cook for 30
minutes before listening as the sound
definitely sweetens and settles down
[see Lab Report, p65], but at no time did
I find this to be anything other than a
component of ideal composure – it simply
did what it was supposed to do.
In the decades that I have used both
Unison Research all-valve and hybrid
hardware, I have always been charmed
by a uniform silkiness than seems to be a
company signature. Kicking off with Lou
Rawls’ At Last [Blue Note
CDP 7 91937 2], all was
as it should be, with
piano sounding notably
resonant and natural.
This amplifier respects
nuance, and the little
vocal tics that both he
and collaborator Dianne
Reeves use to punctuate the title track
provide a delicious authenticity.
For a chuckle, I dug out a pair of
teensy JVC EX-A1 speakers from some
‘For a chuckle,
I dug out a pair
of teensy JVC
EX-A1 speakers’
HYBRID BREW
Before the 1960s all audio amplifiers were tube amplifiers but the advent of the
transistor, and especially the ‘next generation’ silicon transistors, changed the
face of mass market hi-fi. While the high voltage/low current operation of most
tubes has attractions for line/preamp circuits the need for a very high quality
coupling transformer to match a tube power stage with the low impedance of
a loudspeaker load brings complexity, weight and – for a high-end product –
significant added cost. Transistor power amps typically work at a lower voltage,
but can deliver higher current more efficiently into a loudspeaker load.
However, combining a high voltage tube pre/driver stage with a robust, high
current transistor power amp also has its attractions, as designer Bascom H
King illustrated with his seminal ‘Infinity Class A’ hybrid amp in 1979. Since then
we’ve seen many designs ostensibly coupling the ‘warmth’ of tubes with the
clout of transistors, the Unico 90 joining the ranks of PS Audio’s BHK Signature
300 [HFN Jul ’16], the AVM Ovation CS8.2 [HFN May ’17] and even a tube/Class D
hybrid in the form of Rogue Audio’s Sphinx v2 [HFN Jul ’16]. But a tube/transistor
hybrid need not mean moderate or high distortion [see p65] as Musical Fidelity’s
clean-as-a-whistle Nu-Vista 800 [HFN Nov ’14] clearly demonstrates. PM
ABOVE: Bluff-looking but still sensuously
curved, the Unico 90’s substantial alloy fascia
comes in black or silver/grey. Rotaries suffice for
input selection and (remote controlled) volume
long-forgotten mini-system, a brace
of small cubes with single, full-range,
wooden-coned drivers. These are, despite
actually sounding delightful, best kept
for secondary applications, eg, a spare
bedroom, a kitchen system, whatever. But
there they were, asking to be connected
and I was thrilled to hear they delivered
the same detail and character, despite the
truncated bass. The Unico 90, through
three different speakers, maintains a
clearly-discernible ‘voice’, which makes
it easy to appreciate.
CARNIVAL IN TOWN
Back with the KEFs, and the rolling piano
of ‘Fine Brown Frame’ was rollicking, joyous
and yet also detailed enough to divert you
into an analytical mood. The wealth of
information – also a benefit while listening
to the new Sgt Pepper set on vinyl [Apple
4553420602557: review next month] –
through an ELAC Miracord 90 deck [HFN
Jul ’17] and EAR 834P phono stage, was
enabled by broad dynamics and ghostly
silences. Here you could discern minute
effects in ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite’
that sit beneath the swirling tape loops
and add to the carnival atmosphere.
This, however, highlights one of the
joys/curses of assessing hi-fi, either as a
potential purchaser or as a reviewer: that
of resisting the desire to just sit back and
groove. The Unico 90 has a way of doing
both – seducing with sexy sounds while
proffering so much information that you
want to focus separately on every element.
Of course, should you be listening to this
in a shop’s demo room, that’s a priceless
virtue, for you want it to do both.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 63
LAB
REPORT
UNISON RESEARCH UNICO 90
ABOVE: Six line inputs are provided (two balanced via XLRs) with two line outputs
(monitor and subwoofer) alongside sets of 4mm bi-wire loudspeaker binding posts
That’s why I try to do all my
reviewing with music that’s
completely familiar, not least
because I know what to listen for,
while anticipating revelations. With
Chuck Berry’s swan song, Chuck
[Decca 00602557561142], I made
the mistake of listening to it for the
first time through the review set-up
and couldn’t stop marvelling at how
this nonagenarian sounded as sharp
as he did 60 years ago.
TICKING THE BOXES
It was as retro a musical experience
as the Unico 90 was, relative to
amplifiers. The Unico 90 could
have been plucked from just about
any time between 1985 and 2000
without anyone being able to date
it precisely; at the same time it is
certainly as refined and coherent as
a pedigreed integrated amp should
be circa 2017. Ditto for Chuck,
which delivered the curious mix of
sounding like a Chess session from
1958 while possessing all of the
polish of a modern recording.
His vocals and guitar work for
the double-whammy that is the
Chuck Berry sound, and even his
best imitators never quite managed
to mimic that slightly out of step/
tune nature of a Berry performance.
Theirs were too polished, like a fullyrestored vintage car versus one with
the patina of age.
The Unico 90 mirrors this
perfectly, which may be the prime
raison d’être of a hybrid amplifier:
it’s never too clean, never too warm.
For those wanting to have a tube-ish
sound but without the hassles, such
as heat and ventilation concerns,
and who crave the fast and solid
bass of a big tranny amp, the Unico
90 ticks all boxes.
With the ultra-modern production
of Lindsay Buckingham Christine
McVie [EastWest 0190295828318]
– essentially a Fleetwood Mac album
minus Stevie Nicks – the Unico 90
did a masterful job of allowing
the listener to hear the layering of
harmonies, most vividly on ‘Red Sun’,
positioning them with precision,
keeping them in a separate space
from the crisp percussion, all the
while avoiding even the merest hint
of sibilance.
Are there limits to this
deceptively powerful amplifier’s
capabilities? Does one need the
added grunt of the Unico 150? A
brief burst through a pair of Wilson
Alexias [HFN Mar ’13] swiftly showed
the boundaries of its power, but
then only a total shmuck would
mismatch a £3500 amplifier with a
£40k+ speaker.
Allowing for no hard-and-fastrules, eg, absurdly good performers
like KEF’s LS50 speakers, that bely
their sub-£1k price, the Unico 90
would be ideal as the heart of a
system with a total cost between
£6000 to £10,000. I would love to
hear this power amplifier with the
forthcoming Quad 60 ESL speaker,
and I can see this being – in black,
of course! – an ideal recipient for an
SME 10 turntable with an EAT E-Glo
S phono stage [HFN Mar ’17]. The
common thread? No nonsense.
Italian brand Unison Research is no stranger to triode tube/
FET hybrid amplifier designs – this heavyweight Unico 90
partnering the flagship Unico 150. Rated at 100W/8ohm and
180W/4ohm the Unico 90 achieves closer to 2x110W/8ohm
and 2x200W/4ohm up to 1% distortion. In practice its ‘hard clip’
occurs between 2-3% distortion where its output is closer to
130W/8ohm and 220W/4ohm. However, unlike most ‘complete’
tube amps, distortion does not rise uniformly with output – it
has a minimum of 0.1% at 1W rising to 0.25% at 10W before
falling to 0.2% at 40W and climbing again to 1% at 100W
(1kHz/8ohm). This is for the right channel – distortion was ~1.52x higher on the left with our sample which also betrayed a
0.85dB channel imbalance regardless of volume setting. Versus
frequency, distortion is modestly high but uniformly ‘flat’ at
around 0.2% (right) and 0.3% (left) from 20Hz-20kHz, albeit with
a lift to 1-2% at a subsonic 5Hz [see Graph 2, below].
These distortion trends are also duplicated on the dynamic
power output plots [see Graph 1, below] which not only
illustrate the Unico 90’s 120W, 240W, 420W and 370W
momentary output into 8, 4, 2 and 1ohm loads (equivalent to
19.2A at 1% or 22A at 2% THD) but also show its substantive
increase in distortion with decreasing load impedance. Noise
is slightly high too – the 82.5dB A-wtd S/N ratio slightly below
average. The amp/speaker system response is also influenced
by variations in speaker impedance vs. frequency thanks to its
high 0.4-0.5ohm source impedance. Into a ‘flat’ 8ohm load
the response rolls off below 20Hz (–0.9dB) to –3dB/10Hz but
has a lifted upper treble amounting to +0.5dB/20kHz and
+2dB/33kHz. PM
ABOVE: Dynamic power versus distortion into 8ohm
(black trace), 4ohm (red), 2ohm (cyan) and 1ohm
(green) speaker loads. Maximum current is 19.2A
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Tired of the acronyms and forced
nomenclature of online music
sources? Ready to get back to
the country? The Unico 90 – even
if you’re too young to know life
before iTunes – returns us to the
era of ‘honest hi-fi’, when listening
involved source selection, volume
setting and nothing else. It will
regale you with silky sound, more
grunt than most people need
and a sense of freedom. You are
allowed to simply wallow in it.
Sound Quality: 83%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: Distortion versus frequency at 10W/8ohm
(5Hz-40kHz; left channel, black; right channel, red)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Power output (<1% THD, 8/4ohm)
113W / 200W
Dynamic power (<1% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm)
120W / 240W / 420W / 370W
Output impedance (20Hz–20kHz)
0.31–0.47ohm
Freq. response (20Hz–20kHz/100kHz)
–0.8dB to +0.5dB/–6.6dB
Input sensitivity (for 0dBW/100W)
60mV / 600mV (balanced in)
A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBW/100W)
82.5dB / 102.4dB
Distortion (20Hz-20kHz re. 10W/8ohm)
0.17–0.25%
Power consumption (Idle/Rated. o/p)
90W / 360W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
435x180x440mm / 20kg
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 65
HEADPHONES
Closed-back circumaural headphone
Manufactured by: Meze Audio, Baia Mare, Romania
Supplied by: SCV Distribution, Hertfordshire
Telephone: 03301 222500
Web: www.mezeaudio.com; www.scvdistribution.co.uk
Price: £279
Meze 99 Classics
Stylish looks, good sound quality and a high level of comfort were the design targets
for this early headphone product from Meze Audio. So has the new brand hit gold?
Review & Lab: Keith Howard
rikey – this is the first time
I’ve ever seen a manufacturer
suggest that its headphone will
be an ‘heirloom’ but Meze clearly
thinks that your offspring, and theirs in
turn, will treasure the 99 Classics as much
as that Hepplewhite chair in the sitting
room and John Lennon autograph from The
Cavern that’s framed on the wall. Or even
your treasured Stax SR-1/SRD-1 from 1960.
Yes – as if! Let’s get real. The 99 Classics
is a moderately stylish, lightweight,
circumaural closed-back headphone that
retails at a modest £279. The version
pictured has walnut capsules and goldfinished electroplated cast zinc headband
mountings and pivots, but you can have
silver finishes instead. Also available is a
variant that substitutes maple for walnut,
with cream earpads and headband.
C
MACHINED FROM SOLID
When I say the capsules are walnut or
maple, I don’t mean they are veneered:
they are machined from solid wood in what
Meze says is a slow, meticulous process. To
retain its colour, the walnut is first air-dried
rather than kiln-dried or steam-dried, which
would dull it. This takes 18 months.
Next the wood is machined to form
both the outer conical profile and the inner
space of the capsule, the latter drilled with
mounting points for the driver, headband
pivot and input socket. Sanding, lacquering
and hand-finishing then takes 45 days.
Interestingly, Meze highlights a topic
you rarely see explored by headphone
manufacturers – serviceability. There
is no adhesive used in assembling
the 99 Classics as the headphone
is held together exclusively by
metal fasteners. As a result it can
be easily disassembled and, if
necessary, repaired.
Meze may be a hostage
to fortune when it says ‘we
RIGHT: This hard-shell, zip-up
storage case is provided. It’s large
but then Meze’s 99 Classics are not
well adapted to use on the move
66 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST
UST 2017
guarantee that the 99s are endlessly
serviceable’, but when did you last even
hear a headphone manufacturer refer to
defying planned obsolescence?
As far as comfort goes, the 99 Classics
has all the essentials, including light
weight, a large-area padded headband
(which is self-adjusting) and modest
head clamping force. I found its standard
earpads a snug but comfortable fit around
my ears, but if they prove too small for
yours then Meze will supply, free of charge,
a more commodious pair,
albeit with the caveat that
they will change sound
quality just a little.
All this is creditable
stuff but Meze has made a
schoolboy error with the
twin spring steel hoops
that loop over the head
and apply the capsule’s clamping force. As
soon as I saw the photo of the 99 Classics,
long before it arrived, I thought of all those
Audio-Technica models I’ve criticised for
using a similar, if less visually imposing,
structure. Because, yes, it does exactly
what you’d suppose: it resonates [see
Investigation, HFN Jul ’16].
To be fair, the consequences of
headband resonance when playing music
are not well-established. We don’t know
what frequency, level and Q a headband
resonance needs for it to have audible
effects in normal use, let alone the
thresholds for multiple resonances. But the
99 Classics’ headband ‘boing’ is so obvious
that it beggars belief that it should be
deemed innocuous.
CHANGING CHANNELS
The best way to experience the hoops’
effect is to play pink noise through one
channel only, as I do when conducting the
impedance test for the lab report [p69].
What you will then clearly hear is the
headband both colouring
the noise signal and
carrying some of it across
from the active towards
the inactive capsule. If you
damp the hoops’ vibration,
the coloration disappears
and the sound leaps
back to the appropriate
capsule. I’ll return to this subject in my
sound quality notes.
Electrical connection is made by a
thin Y-cable that’s 2.95m in length and
terminated at the source end by a 3.5mm
TRS mini-jack plug. A gold-plated sleeve
adapter is provided to allow use with ¼in
(6.35mm) jack sockets. At the capsule end,
slim 3.5mm TS mini-jack plugs engage with
centrally-mounted sockets beneath each
capsule pivot.
Because the capsules and headband are
symmetrical front to back, the headphone
can be worn either way round so it’s
important to be able to distinguish which
channel is which. Meze’s inadequate
solution to this is white L/R lettering
on the body of each slim, silverfinish connector. Difficult to see
in low lighting, the letters can
be obscured against the
capsule if the plug happens
to be rotated that way.
‘“We guarantee
that the 99s
are endlessly
serviceable”’
WARM CIVILITY
Listening was conducted
using two headphone
amplifiers: a Teac HA-501
[HFN Apr ’14] and Matrix
Audio M-Stage HP-3B, both fed
LEFT: It was a design priority to make the
99 Classics comfortable to wear and they are,
thanks to their modest weight, supportive
headband and firm but not excessive head
clamping force
on what music you enjoy. If, like me,
you spend much more time listening to
hi-res digital recordings of chamber and
orchestral music than you do hip-hop or
grunge, the 99 Classics’ bass lift may
brass you off.
That might seem a strange thing
to say given that chamber music in
particular rarely has much obvious bass,
but in both chamber and orchestral
music, players and conductors (if there
is one) strive for balance, with no
instrument or section too prominent.
Bass lift undoes that at a stroke by
cranking up the cellos and/or doublebasses, or the left hand part in the case
of the pianoforte.
HELP TO THE PIANO
unbalanced analogue signals from one of
two DACs. For PCM source files, I used a
Chord Electronics QuteHD, fed S/PDIF from
a TC Electronic Impact Twin FireWire audio
interface, with a second-generation Mac
mini running Windows XP and JRiver Media
Center v22 delivering the music.
For DSD source files, I used a Teac NT503DAB which renders DSD64, DSD128
and DSD256 files rather wonderfully via
its USB interface from Teac’s own software
player, using native mode rather than
DoP and playing files from RAM. The two
headphone amplifiers, Chord, TC and NT503DAB were all powered from a PS Audio
P10 mains regenerator [HFN Apr ’13].
If you are a habitual reader of my
headphone reviews you’ll have seen me
banging on time and again about the
importance of headphone tonal balance
and the current trend for serving up too
much bass allied with a denuded treble.
The 99 Classics is guilty on both counts,
but not so excessively that it’s irredeemably
turgid to listen to. On the contrary, if you
can live with its mildly shelved-up bass
and prefer a presentation that emphasises
warmth and civility, even if this means
sacrificing some slight resolution and
transparency, then these Meze headphones
are likely to have great appeal.
This decision will not just be a matter
of personal taste but will also depend
This effect was obvious in the extra
weight the 99 Classics afforded the lower
registers of the piano in Stanford’s Legend,
an alternately melodic and (for its time)
harmonically daring chamber piece for
violin and piano, played here by The Gould
Piano Trio [Naxos 8.572452; 44.1kHz/
16-bit rip). In this case, though, you might
argue that the 99 Classics’ warm tonal
balance did little harm in beefing up the
piano sound while preventing the violin
gaining a hard edge, as it easily can do
with this recording.
I found it a little less easy to be so
positive with the opening movement of
Beethoven’s String Trio in C-minor Op.9:3,
from the Janaki String Trio’s Debut on
Yarlung Records [YAR62376 (CD); DSD256
download from Native DSD]. I’ve barely
been able to sit down to listen recently
and not play this track because it is the
MEZE MUSING
Antonio Meze, founder of Meze Audio, describes himself as an ‘industrial designer
and creative thinker’. He lists in his work experience being part of the team that
designed the Üutensil Stirr, an automatic pan stirrer which won a Red Dot design
award, and the Freerider Skatecycle, another award winner that reimagines the
skateboard. He founded Meze Audio, he says, in frustration at not being able to
find a headphone that looked good, sounded good and was comfortable to wear.
Given this background, it’s perhaps not surprising that Meze Audio’s website says
nothing substantive about the audio design of the 99 Classics. The ‘Tech’ page
carries a description of how the walnut capsules are made and mention of the
99 Classics’ serviceability, but there is no word on the 40mm drive unit, not even
a mention of the diaphragm material. A frequency response graph is proffered
alongside the specifications, but as is so often the case it bears little relation to
any of the responses we measured in our lab testing [see p69].
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 67
The Classic turntable, shown with Pre Box DS2 Digital pre-amplifier.
THE CLASSIC
The Classic was released to celebrate Pro-Ject
Audio Systems’ 25th Anniversary. This retro-inspired
turntable has been designed from the groundup by analogue audio experts to combine
timeless aesthetics with modern technology and
audiophile sound performance.
The striking frame design is available in three wood
finishes, and provides clever decoupling between
the acoustically treated aluminium platter and
the motor.
The new motor is powered by a built-in generator,
for a consistent performance, and drives a subplatter that sits atop a precision-engineered main
bearing.
The all-new 9” Classic Tonearm is made of
aluminium and carbon fibre, for unrivalled rigidity
while retaining a low mass. The arm benefits
from a new bearing system for completely free
movement and is supplied as standard with an
Ortofon 2M Silver cartridge.
AVAILABLE ACROSS THE UK NOW
Distributed by Henley Designs Ltd.
T: +44 (0)1235 511 166 | E: [email protected] | W: www.henleydesigns.co.uk
LAB
REPORT
MEZE 99 CLASSICS
best sounding recording I own, and
a powerful advocate for the benefits
of DSD at 11.2896MHz. (Buyer
beware: not all Yarlung DSD256
releases sound this good!)
Here you couldn’t wish for a
more carefully constructed balance
between cello, viola and violin, and
anything that messes with that will
spoil the magic. The 99 Classics
did meddle with the mix, making
the cello a little too dominant
in the more energetic sections
while suppressing the presence
band content that would ideally
contribute such verve, vibrancy and
verisimilitude to this performance.
TIMELESS TRACK
Could I hear any effect of the
headband resonance? Yes indeed.
Applying my hands as dampers to
those two metal arcs cleaned up
the low frequencies a little and
also sharpened up the imaging and
overall sound on both the Beethoven
track and the opening of Daft Punk’s
‘Within’ [from Random Access
Memories; HDtracks 88.2kHz/24-bit].
It was a different story with
Martin Carthy’s famous performance
of the bloody ‘Famous Flower Of
Serving Men’, originally released on
the Steeleye Span album Individually
And Collectively but here from the
collection Classic Carthy [Free Reed
FRCD 61]. This is a notable example
of a towering, timeless performance
given a mediocre recording – a fact
that you just have to live with. The
best you can hope for is a sound
that is easy to listen to as there
are no prodigious dynamic swings
to accommodate, no cavernous
acoustic to reproduce, no subtle
felicities to uncover. The 99 Classics
did a fine job of retaining the drive
of Carthy’s performance, without his
indistinct acoustic guitar taking on
annoying hardness.
ABOVE: Electrical connection is
made individually to each capsule via
3.5mm mini-jack connectors. Channel
identification is on the two jack plugs
With a very different folk classic –
June Tabor’s haunting performance
of Eric Bogle’s anti-war ‘And The
Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ from
Airs And Graces [Topic TSCD298]
– the 99 Classics’ presence band
reticence removed a hint of detail
from the artificial reverb on Tabor’s
voice while its warm bass drew
attention to some low frequency
studio noise.
But neither was a deal-breaker,
for the emotional power of Tabor’s
less-is-more approach, devoid of the
daft warblings of a modern pop diva,
still shone through magnificently.
Sure enough, with super-clean,
very high-resolution and very widebandwidth recordings the Meze
99 Classics’ tonal warmth brings a
slightly ‘soft focus’ lens into play, but
let’s remember what we are talking
about here: a £270 headphone from
an audio industry newbie. It’s a very
creditable early effort – and one
which we all hope it will build on.
Meze specifies the sensitivity of the 99 Classics as 103dB SPL at
1kHz for 1mW input, and its impedance as 32ohm. Combining
these figures, the equivalent voltage sensitivity works out at
117.9dB for 1Vrms – fully 4dB shy of the exceptional 121.9dB
that we measured, averaged for the two capsules. But the
impedance is actually nothing like 32ohm: we measured a
range from 19.6-22.3ohm across the 20Hz-20kHz audio band.
So if we use 20ohm rather than 32ohm for our conversion to
voltage sensitivity, then the specified 103dB for 1mW becomes
120dB for 1V, a good deal closer to what we measured.
What this means in practice is that the 99 Classics can be
driven to high enough sound pressure levels to accommodate
signal peaks on high dynamic range programme by virtually
anything likely to be used to drive it. The uncorrected
frequency responses [Graph 1, below] illustrate three key
features that catch the eye – a little dip at 65Hz, a larger one
at about 300Hz and another at 1kHz. Above this the expected
peaking of the response at 2-3kHz is present but not to the
extent necessary for a neutral tonal balance. A peak at 8kHz
also features in both traces, suggesting a resonance.
Applying diffuse-field correction [see green trace, Graph
2 below] gives a better idea of perceived tonal balance. Here
we see a shelving up of the lower midrange and bass below
300Hz, a shortfall in presence band output between 2kHz
and 8kHz, and mild peaking at 10kHz. Taken together, these
features suggest that Meze’s 99 Classics will have a darker than
neutral tonal balance which lacks some life and sparkle but
may demonstrate some sibilant emphasis. The last is only made
more likely by the CSD waterfall (not shown here) exhibiting
resonances associated with the high treble response peaks. A
high-Q resonance associated with the response dip at 4kHz is
also prominent. KH
ABOVE: Unequalised responses (L/R, grey/red; average
3rd-octave, black) show a dip at 3kHz that further
emphasises bass response [see green trace, below]
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Forgive its manufacturer’s
pretension (heirloom, indeed!)
and you’ll discover that the 99
Classics is a very good headphone
in the modern mould. By which I
mean it has a little too much bass
and not quite enough presence
band energy, but not to a degree
that makes it a product I’d urge
you to avoid. Rather, if a mildly
full bass and polite overall tonal
balance appeal to you, the 99
Classics are well worth hearing.
Sound Quality: 82%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: Third-octave freq. resp. (red = Harman
corrected; cyan = FF corrected; green = DF corrected)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Sensitivity (SPL at 1kHz for 1Vrms input)
121.9dB
Impedance modulus min/max (20Hz-20kHz)
19.6ohm @ 6.1kHz
22.3ohm @ 66Hz
Capsule matching (40Hz-10kHz)
±5.7dB
LF extension (–6dB ref. 200Hz)
<20Hz
Distortion 100Hz/1kHz (for 90dB SPL)
0.1% / <0.1%
Weight (inc cable)
302g
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 69
DAC/HEADPHONE AMP
USB DAC/headphone amplifier
Made by: Pro-Ject Audio Systems, Austria
Supplied by: Henley Designs Ltd, UK
Telephone: 01235 511166
Web: www.project-audio.com; www.henleydesigns.co.uk
Price: £300
Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital
Smartphone users are spoilt for choice these days, but Pro-Ject’s new S2 Digital brings
things back home, providing an affordable, high quality preamp for desktop systems
Review: Cliff Joseph Lab: Paul Miller
here are more than 20 different
products in Pro-Ject’s ‘Box
Design’ range of DACs, streamers,
docks, phono stages and other
components – an approach that some
have likened to throwing things at the wall
to see what sticks. However, that does
allow the Austrian company to focus quite
precisely on a number of different users
and listening environments.
And focus is what the new Pre Box S2
Digital is all about, as – under the new
guidance of John Westlake, the designer
who was previously responsible for awardwinning designs including the Audiolab
M-DAC – this latest addition to the Pre
Box range has its sights set firmly on your
computer desktop.
T
USB POWER
With a competitive £300 price tag, the S2
Digital is aiming to provide an affordable,
high-quality headphone preamp for use
with desktop and laptop computers at
home or in an office. Available in either
silver or black, the Pre Box S2 Digital is a
compact device that measures just 35mm
high, 100mm wide and 105mm deep,
so you can easily sit it on your desk while
you’re working, or just slide it under your
computer screen to keep it out of the way.
A power adapter plugs into a micro-USB
port on the back of the unit when you are
driving the S2 Digital via coax or optical
S/PDIF, but you won’t need it when using
a computer as there’s also a larger USB-B
connector that facilitates both audio data
and hub power.
The use of the USB port also means that
the S2 Digital isn’t just restricted to sitting
on a desk at home or in your office, as you
can carry it around with a laptop computer
and use it in a hotel or conference room
just by plugging in a single USB cable.
Admittedly, the S2 Digital isn’t quite as
RIGHT: Galvanically-isolated USB XMOS solution
[top left] with latest firmware supports LPCM to
768kHz/32-bit and DSD512 while two ESS Sabre
ES9038Q2M ‘mobile’ DACs [lower middle] feed
an ESS ES9602 headphone amp [lower left]
70 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
compact as some of the portable DACs and
preamps that we’ve seen recently – and
weight is relatively hefty too, at nearly
400g – but you can still carry it around in
a backpack or briefcase along with your
laptop without too much trouble.
You won’t need to recharge it either,
as you do with battery-powered rivals
such as the Chord Mojo [HFN Jan ’16],
RHA Dacamp L1 [HFN Apr ’17] and Oppo
HA-2 SE [HFN Dec ’16]. Note, however,
that the S2 Digital’s micro-USB port is for
5V power only so it won’t connect to the
micro-USB audio outputs on some tablets
or smartphones.
But, to be fair, the S2 Digital quite
clearly puts its emphasis on desktop
use with Mac and PC computers, and
it’s certainly not designed for use while
you’re actually on the move, which is the
case with the pocket-size Oppo and RHA.
Moreover, with its coaxial and optical
inputs for use with legacy sources, plus RCA
stereo outputs on the back, the S2 Digital
can also serve as a preamp with your
existing hi-fi set-up at home. That’s more
of an added extra as the primary output
option is clearly the 6.35mm headphone
socket that sits right up-front on the main
control panel (and also takes priority over
the RCA output if both are connected).
There’s no 3.5mm connector, and no
adapter is provided with the S2 Digital.
BRIGHT AND CLEAR
The headphone socket sits on the left-hand
side, with a chunky volume dial over on the
right and a small LCD screen in-between.
The screen measures just 20x15mm,
but it’s bright and clear and I had no
trouble viewing the various menu options,
including the comprehensive array of eight
digital filters, while the S2 Digital was
sitting on my desk [for more on these filters
see PM’s boxout, facing page].
Some of the controls are a little
confusing, though. The two Input
buttons on the left of the screen are
straightforward enough, allowing you to
switch between the USB, coax and optical
LEFT: The 6.35mm
headphone
socket betrays the
diminutive scale of
this DAC. The input,
digital filter selection
and menu operations
are all revealed on the
tiny colour display as
is the output volume
inputs. There’s also a single button that
you can use to select the digital filters. The
main Menu button displays settings, such as
distortion compensation and sound quality
modes, which can be altered via the clickto-select volume knob or via the separate
hand-held remote control [see p73].
The playback controls on
the remote do double duty
when controlling the onscreen menus, so even after
several days’ use I still found
myself randomly stabbing
at buttons before having to
reach for the user manual!
Despite its compact
design and competitive price, the S2
Digital is equipped for some heavy lifting,
with twin (surface-mount) Sabre ESS9038
DACs that support a 768kHz/32-bit input,
built-in hardware decoding for the MQA
high-res format, and even support for
DSD512 – which is directly accommodated
by Macs and Linux computers, although
the instructions provided by Pro-Ject for
playing DSD files on a PC may seem rather
daunting to less technical users. The S2
Digital is compatible with the Roon player
software, and the remote control even
allowed me to control iTunes playback on
my office iMac, which is
where my main collection
of lossless files resides.
‘Brian May’s
power chords
struck like a
thunderbolt’
EPIC QUEEN
Using the USB connection
on the iMac, the S2 Digital
clearly provided a real
improvement in sound
quality on the Sennheiser headphones that
I also tend to use in the office. It delivers
a clear, precise sound that might seem a
little clinical if it didn’t manage to retain
such warmth and texture as well.
Feeling a little biblical on a wet, stormy
weekend, I was impressed by the almost
crystalline clarity of the intertwining vocals
in Queen’s vast, a cappella rondo on ‘The
Prophet’s Song’ from the 2005 reissue of
A Night At The Opera [Parlophone 00946
3 38457 2]. It’s particularly effective at
delving into the sound and isolating voices
and details that – on my naked headphones
– would normally just merge together as a
rather undifferentiated ‘wall of sound’.
There’s a strong sense of space too, with
very precise left/right separation helping to
create a widescreen soundstage that befits
Queen’s epic production, and when Brian
May’s power chords finally come crashing
in they really do strike like a thunderbolt
and lightning. But for real biblical overload
even Queen can’t compete with the
polyphonic motets of Thomas Tallis, and it’s
here that the S2 Digital earns its wings.
Even with my closed-back Sennheisers
it felt as though the soaring vocals of Pro
Cantione Antiqua’s ‘Spem In Alium’ [Thomas
g flight
g and
Tallis; Alto ALC1082]] were taking
MOOD MUSIC
Pro-Ject’s choice of ESS’s Sabre ES9038 DAC defines the core performance of the
Pre Box S2 Digital, but it’s your selection of its eight bespoke filter algorithms
that tailors the sound with LPCM inputs. The ‘Brickwall’ and ‘Fast Rolloff’ filters
are typical FIR types, and linear phase like the ‘Apodising’ option, their impulse
responses showing pre- and post-ringing but achieving a superior rejection of
alias images (84dB, 79dB and 84dB, respectively) while also offering the flattest
responses. The other five filters are optimised for transient performance with
progressively reduced acausal pre-ringing at the expense of poorer HF extension
and a weaker suppression of alias distortions.
The ‘Slow Rolloff’ and ‘Hybrid’ filters have just one or two pre-echoes, and
reduced time domain distortion, but with a steeper treble cut-offs of –3.7dB/
20kHz and –12.5dB/20kHz. The ‘Hybrid’ filter offers a superior 84dB alias
rejection (14dB for ‘Slow’) but its response shows obvious rippling. ‘Minimum
Phase’ (Fast and Slow) show no pre-ringing but have increased phase distortion,
with ‘Fast’ trading increased post-ringing for good alias rejection and a flatter
response (74dB vs 18dB and –0.3dB vs –3.7dB/20kHz, Fast and Slow respectively).
The most extreme is ‘Optimal Transient’ – essentially no filter at all – which
has no pre or post-ringing but also no suppression of alias distortions. Coupled
with an early –1dB/11kHz to –3.4dB/20kHz treble roll-off (–4.4dB/45kHz and
–6.5dB/90kHz with 96kHz and 192kHz media), this filter may be preferred with
96kHz+ files where aliasing is pushed well outside of the audioband. PM
ABOVE: Time and treble frequency response
of Fast/Optimal Transient (black/red, top) and
Minimum Phase Fast/Hybrid (black/red, lower)
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 71
The only true audiophile Hi-res music source component and player
Mk 2 range now available - the best just got better…
Sets the standard at this price level…The new Melco N1A/2 improves
on what was already a fine product with easier operation and
improved sound quality. A great product gets better then.
The N1A/2 is a fit-and-forget device that offers a brilliantly executed
functionality to make your listening experience better…the sonic
performance via the USB connection is discernibly superior than via
any computer that I have been able to compare it with…
..the N1ZS20/2 simply seems to bring out the best in DACs..
www.melco-audio.com
KOG AUDIO
www.kogaudio.com
[email protected]
024 7722 0650
LAB
REPORT
PRO-JECT PRE BOX S2 DIGITAL
LEFT: USB, coax/
optical digital
ins join variable
analogue outs on
RCAs. Note microUSB port (5V PSU)
echoing around the cavernous nave
of St Paul’s Cathedral, where this
recording originated.
Back down to earth, the S2
Digital can also dig impressively
deep. The electronic depths of
Max Richter’s ‘Shadow Journal’
from The Blue Notebooks set from
2015 [DG 479 4443] take on a new
dimension, with a rumbling, roiling
boom that echoes into the distance
while still remaining threateningly
taut and focused.
BOUNCING BASS
Thankfully, the S2 Digital can handle
gentler sounds too. And this allows
the simple, wistful refrain of ‘The
Blower’s Daughter’ by Damien
Rice, from his 2003 self-produced/
engineered album O [14th Floor
Records 5050466-4788-5-6], to
linger almost painfully, clinging on
to the final, fading notes as though
it can’t quite bear to let go.
Ironically, perhaps, that attention
to detail can be a little irksome at
times, emphasising every little finger
scratch on Rice’s guitar playing to an
almost distracting degree. However,
the rich backing timbres and Rice’s
own voice are so affecting that they
overcome the flaws in the recording.
It’s inevitable, when listening to
music on a computer, that you’ll
come across lower resolution
formats online, but the S2 Digital
acquits itself well here too. It was
able to hang on the deep bass
when listening to ‘Shadow Journal’
on Spotify – streaming at a mere
160kbps – albeit with a less tightly
focused sound, as you might expect.
Of course, headphones aren’t
the only option when using the S2
Digital. The UK distributors at Henley
Designs admit that the S2 Digital
isn’t really intended for use as a
preamp with your primary hi-fi setup, but it did still make a noticeable
difference when used with some
of the (relatively) high-end desktop
speakers that I use with my office
computer. With Westlake’s prePro-Ject, pre-Audiolab tenure at
Cambridge Audio in mind, I used the
unit’s RCA connectors to hook it up
to my Cambridge Air 200 speakers
whose built-in subwoofer really
benefited from the extra reach of
the S2 Digital.
In fact, the bass on ‘Shadow
Journal’ now clearly stretched the
Air 200 to its limits, and I could
almost hear the compact cabinet
straining at the seams to contain
the sound. Switch to something a
little less apocalyptic and the bass
line on Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, from the
1998 compilation The Very Best Of
Blondie [EMI 7243 4 99288 2 4],
bounced along like a playful puppy,
overcoming its tendency to get lost
in the mix.
Results with the Thomas Tallis
were less dramatic, but with the
aid of the S2 Digital the Air 200
did manage to retain much of the
vocal clarity that I could hear on my
headphones, and created a more
dynamic, spacious sound than it
normally manages. Clearly, even
as an interim DAC/preamp, the S2
Digital can still provide a genuinely
attractive audio upgrade, both with
’phones and with a decent set of
desktop speakers that you might use
with your computer.
This latest ‘digital box’ should not be confused with Pro-Ject’s
earlier miniature DAC/network solutions – a new designer (John
Westlake) and new chip technologies mark out the Pre Box S2
Digital as a vastly superior offering. A standard 2.1V maximum
output is offered at 0dBFs via the RCAs but at a rather ‘betterthan-average’ 110dB A-wtd S/N ratio and vanishingly low
0.25ohm source impedance. Long or reactive interconnect
types will not cause the Pre Box S2 Digital pause. Low-level
linearity also benefits from the wide S/N, as resolution is true to
±0.2dB over a full 110dB range. Stress on the analogue stage
causes an increase in distortion at 0dBFs, particularly at HF, of
0.0015-0.03% but this drops to between 0.00035-0.00075%
over the top 30dB of its dynamic range [20Hz-20kHz – Graph 1,
below]. The Pre Box S2 Digital has separate 44.1/48kHz-centric
clocks and jitter is fabulously low at ~10psec with all sample
rates through all inputs. Frequency response, rejection of
stopband images and time domain behaviour all hinge on your
choice between the eight digital filters [see boxout, p71].
The headphone output, driven by an ES9602 chip, is
capable of delivering a maximum 92mW/25ohm (<1% THD),
with sufficient voltage for 6.0mW/600ohm, but distortion does
climb over the top 6dB of this output [see red trace, Graph 1].
There’s also a difference in THD with loading, most obviously at
HF where, for the same voltage output, distortion can be x20
higher into low impedance ’phones [red trace, Graph 2 below].
But there are advantages too – the compact chip format and
excellent PSU smoothing result in a fabulously wide 109.5dB
A-wtd S/N ratio and exceptionally low –109dBV (2.5μV)
unweighted hum and noise. PM
ABOVE: Distortion vs. 24-bit/48kHz digital signal
level over 120dB range (pre out, 1kHz, black; 20kHz,
blue; headphone out/25ohm, red, 0dBFs = 92mW)
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Pro-Ject’s Pre Box S2 Digital offers
a wealth of audiophile tweakery
but its emphasis on USB ties it
primarily – but not exclusively – to
desktop and laptop PCs. On the
other hand, USB hook-up means
the S2 is still a portable option for
laptop users, and it doesn’t need
a battery. For the price, its sound
performance is impeccable,
combining clarity and precision
with an attractive warmth and
impressive sense of space.
Sound Quality: 85%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: Distortion vs. extended freq. from 5Hz-40kHz,
headphone (1V/600ohm, black; 40mW/25ohm, red)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Maximum output level (RCA)
2.14Vrms at 0.25ohm
Maximum output (headphone)
6.0mW/600ohm / 92mW/25ohm
A-wtd S/N ratio (S/PDIF / USB / headph)
110.0dB / 110.0dB / 109.5dB
Distortion (1kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)
0.0015% / 0.00035%
Dist. & Noise (20kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)
0.030% / 0.00075%
Freq. resp. (20Hz-20kHz/45kHz/90kHz)
+0.0dB to –0.23dB/–1.4dB/–3.5dB
Digital jitter (48kHz/96kHz/USB)
12psec / 6psec / 10psec
Power consumption
3W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
103x37x122mm / 0.37kg
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 73
Classical Companion
BEHIND THE MUSIC WITH HI-FI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW
Sir Jeffrey Tate
Conductor
Profoundly disabled, he forfeited a career in medicine to become a conductor and
built a substantial discography with the ECO. Christopher Breunig looks at his career
t was German conductor Rudolf
Kempe who first handed a baton
to Jeffrey Tate and asked him to
conduct the Royal Opera House
Orchestra (preparing Elektra he
wanted to check the sound from the
back of the hall). Tate was working
there as rehearsal pianist.
He had loved the piano since the
age of five and had early lessons
until 11 (1954), although he later
considered himself self-taught. He
used to play opera and orchestral
scores borrowed from the Farnham
local library. He won a scholarship
to Christ’s College Cambridge in
1961, finding plenty of musical
and theatrical activity there while
studying medicine. Later he trained
at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, as
an eye specialist.
But the call to become a musician
was too strong so he joined the
London Opera Centre in 1971 to
I
è
Tate’s
powerful
Beethoven
Seventh was
with the Dresden
Staatskapelle – it
is still available as
an import CD
í
Sir Jeffrey
Tate
began to make
records in 1984
– starting with
Songs of the
Auvergne with
Kiri te Kanawa
and the ECO
train, later working as assistant to
conductors Solti at Covent Garden,
Karajan at Salzburg and – crucially
– with Boulez at Bayreuth, who was
then working on the 1976 Chéreau
Ring production. It was Boulez
who encouraged Tate to become
a conductor, notwithstanding his
severe physical disabilities.
Tate was born with spina bifida
and spinal deformity, spending much
of his childhood
hospitalised, so he
walked with a stick
and experienced
certain breathing
difficulties. He
conducted sitting
on a high stool.
Jeffrey Tate’s
life expectancy was about 50 but
he was 74 when, rehearsing with
an orchestra at Lombardy, Italy, he
suffered a fatal heart attack on the
2nd of June. (Already in 2017 we
had lost conductors Jiří Bělohlávek,
Louis Frémaux and Stanisław
Skrowaczewski.)
He made his first recordings as
a harpsichordist: baroque pieces
for Philips, then continuo on the
Solti/Decca Marriage Of Figaro and
Così sets and the Karajan/DG Don
Giovanni. But his most substantial
discography was with the English
Chamber Orchestra, to which he
was appointed Principal Conductor
in 1985. There was a large selection
of Haydn Symphonies, all of Mozart’s
(starting in 1984 with the ‘Jupiter’)
and of course the Piano Concertos
with pianist Mitsuko Uchida.
‘I’ll only do them with him,’ she
had told Philips (as this allowed
greater concentration on the piano
part – although later she’s directed
the Cleveland from the keyboard in
rather less admired Decca remakes.)
Unhappy with the sound in the
first pairing at Henry Wood Hall,
they moved to St John’s, Smith
Square, where the piano was set
close-knit within the orchestra. Quad
electrostatic speakers were used for
the monitoring there.
WELCOME TO DRESDEN
Tate had a strong interest in the
scale of an orchestra appropriate for
classical/early romantic composers,
and this included one major piece
close to his heart. He had sung as a
member of the
Philharmonia
Chorus in the
Klemperer
Beethoven
Missa Solemnis
recording, and
believed the ECO
was no less suited
to this monumental score. ‘It would
achieve clarity of inner voices,’ he
said ‘and have the incision of a small
choir [the Tallis]’. The smaller of the
Abbey Road studios was chosen
and Tate felt the music’s ‘granitic
feeling’ was preserved [EMI, 1989].
Gardiner’s Monteverdi Ch/EBS Archiv
version was issued in the same year.
His EMI contract also included a
Beethoven Symphony No 7, made in
long takes at four-hour sessions with
the Dresden Staatskapelle in Feb ’86
[CDC 7 47915 2]. The engineer
Heinz Wegner remembered Tate
from their 1974 Albinoni sessions
PHOTO: REG WILSON, EMI RECORDS
‘“And after I gave
up the ECO,
everything sort
of dried up here”’
76 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
PHOTO: DECAA CLASSICS
and made a little welcoming speech
to the orchestra (with whom Tate
had not previously worked). The
use of just two mics meant that the
responsibility for balance was Tate’s
– ‘for better or worse,’ he said. They
also recorded Schubert’s ‘Great C
major’ Symphony.
The Beethoven also concluded
his debut concert with the Berlin
Philharmonic (which began with
Mozart’s Prague Symphony and
the Third Bartók Concerto). It
was, of course, ‘one of Karajan’s
party-pieces, and I was absolutely
terrified!’. The tempo for the finale
was contrastedly slower – Tate,
again concerned with articulation of
inner detail – and the players found
his ‘craggy, literal’ reading quite
difficult to adapt to.
That cragginess attracted him
to Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, and
the Eighth, rather than the ‘perfect’
No 7. When we spoke in 1986 he
was planning to explore the Dvořák
Symphonies, some of which – along
è
CD/
DVD of
Wagner and
Stravinsky with
Jeffrey Tate’s
Hamburg
Symphony
Orchestra
[Es-Dur ES2044]
impressionist scores like Daphnis et
Chloé or Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole:
‘not my sound world at all – not the
way I think’, he told me.
SHEDDING A TEAR
ë
with Schumann’s and Mendelssohn’s
– he thought would work well with
his ECO. No recordings appeared,
although YouTube has the Dvořák
No 6 with the RAI Orchestra. (Rather
unexpectedly, there’s a Suisse
Romande Sibelius No 2 on YouTube,
too, which is worth hearing.)
With the ECO Tate made a very
fine Britten Nocturne, with Robert
Tear [variously recoupled on CD] and
a 1993 English music programme,
The Banks Of Green Willows. He
also made the premiere recording
of Mahler’s rescoring for strings of
Schubert’s Death And The Maiden
Quartet [EMI CDC 47354 2].
He also recorded the two Elgar
Symphonies, etc, with the LSO [see
boxout] without having the benefit
of living with the music for years, like
Boult and Barbirolli.
Tate’s core repertory excluded
the Russian composers and French
During
the 1980s,
Tate recorded
22 Mozart
concertos for
Philips with
Mitsuko Uchida
But another recording made in
Germany (with the Bavarian RSO)
was of a score which had enchanted
Jeffrey Tate as a young child:
Humperdinck’s Hänsel Und Gretel.
He’d listened to 78s from the opera
and had learned to play it at the
piano. ‘We shed a little tear at the
playbacks,’ he told interviewer
Daniel Snowman, at the loveliness
of Anne-Sofie von Otter and Barbara
Hendricks as the two lost children.
From 1991 Tate spent four years
with the Rotterdam Philharmonic
and in 2005 was appointed music
director at the San Carlo Theatre
of Naples. His last European post
began in 2008, when he became
chief conductor of the Hamburg
Symphony Orchestra, a contract
extended to 2019. In April 2017
Tate accepted a knighthood.
In 2011 he returned to Covent
Garden to conduct The Flying
Dutchman – he’d been long absent
from the UK. ‘After I gave up the
ECO, everything sort of dried up
here,’ he told The Guardian’s Tom
Service. But Germany had become
his spiritual home. ‘I suppose I have
had to fight all my life,’ he said,
‘But I don’t look back on it with any
degree of bitterness, because I love
music so much.’
ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Bruch and Mendelssohn
Warner Classics 7496632
The popular violin concertos with Nigel
Kennedy, Tate and the ECO: an Abbey Road
coupling produced by Andrew Keener.
Mozart: The Symphonies
Warner Classics 9846382 (12 discs)
Tates ECO complete cycle is now reissued as
a budget box with 44.1kHz/16-bit downloads
separately available.
Elgar: Symphonies Nos 1 and 2, etc
Warner Classics 5855122 (two discs)
Tate’s 1991-2 recordings also included Sospiri
and the Cockaigne Overture. ‘He has put
nothing finer on disc,’ said Gramophone.
Mozart: Piano Concertos
Philips 4757306 (eight discs)
The Rondo K382 and 22 Concertos with
Mitsuko Uchida come at a bargain price. Finer
ECO accompaniments than Perahia managed.
Haydn: The ‘London’ Symphonies
Warner/CfP 95218552 and 2283692
The nine symphonies, Nos 94-104, are now
listed as download only. ‘Unsurpassed musical
truths,’ said one critic.
Noel Coward
EMI 5 57374-2
Tate’s lighter side is evident here, where
he accompanies Ian Bostridge and Sophie
Daneman in cabaret songs by ‘The Master’.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 77
Vinyl Release
BEHIND THE MUSIC WITH HI-FI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW
STEVE SUTHERLAND
Steve edited NME from 1992-2000, the Britpop
years, launching NME.com and reviving the
NME Awards. Previously he was Assistant
Editor on Melody Maker. Among his many
adventures he has been physically threatened
by Axl Rose, hung out awhile with Jerry Garcia
and had a drink or two with Keith Richards...
Dr John
The Sun, Moon & Herbs
Eric Clapton on guitar, guest vocals from Mick Jagger...
Steve Sutherland gets all deep ’n’ swampy digging the
voodoo jive of this 1971 Dr John LP, now on 180g vinyl
is face was tattooed with red and
blue snakes; that’s what some
said. Others claimed he was a
Senegalese prince of some sort,
arrived in New Orleans via Haiti, a rarity in
the 1840s, a free man of colour.
Some called him a healer, others
something more sinister. His medicine was
Gris-Gris in the form of an amulet hung
round the neck, a small cloth bag, covered
in script and full of weird objects, runes
and the like, originally worn to ward off evil
spirits. In the Dr’s hands it was something
else, a black magic curse bestowed upon
foes, the masters of slaves, menials under
John’s influence, spies who would sneak
back improprieties, fuel for blackmail.
His name? Dr John Montaigne, or
sometimes Bayou John, maybe rival, maybe
mentor of Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen
of New Orleans. His rap sheet shows he was
busted for practising the so-called dark arts
in the 1850s, his accomplice one Pauline
Rebennack, her name enough to inspire
fantasies of kinship and fire the imagination
of one young boy a century on.
ì
Malcolm John Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr John, pictured in 2014 (left) and at the
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2012. Now aged 76, he is currently touring the US
78 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
Reverend Ether, he dangles the character
of Dr John Creaux, The Night Tripper,
before his old pal but Ronnie doesn’t
bite so Mac takes it on himself with furs,
headdress, hoodoo hoo-ha, the works.
Mac records an album on borrowed
time. Released on Atco, it’s called Gris-Gris
and no-one’s ever heard anything remotely
like it before. Full of
spells more than songs,
half-growled in your ear
by Mac’s alter-ego while
a choir of entranced
chicks whip up the
scary stuff. Famous
label boss and hallowed
tastemaker Ahmet
Ertegun worries: ‘How can we market this
boogaloo c**p?’ and he’s dead right to fret.
Nobody gets it and nobody buys it.
‘It’s a funky soup
full of recipes,
threats, promises
and predictions’
BRUCE WEBER
H
Malcolm John Mac Rebennack is
bunking off school by the mid-1950s,
playing in bands, living the high life in
the underworld of New Orleans’ colourful
clubland. A neat guitarist, he switches to
bass when a bullet meant for his pal Ronnie
Barron mangles his left hand ring finger.
Then it’s keyboards, and a hard heroin
habit and a stint brothelrunning until the law
intervenes to the tune of
a couple of years banged
up in Fort Worth.
Upon his release he
heads out to LA and
plentiful session work
around The Wrecking
Crew where he gets this notion around
’68 to create a show made up of other
New Orleans fugitives, a ’gator stew of
backyard R&B and psychedelic rock, an oldtimey medicine show selling swamp-fever,
gutbucket funky rock instead of charms
and snake oil. Inspired by his old pal Ronnie
Baron, who’s been peddling a schlock
’n’ roll show under the hokey guise of
SPOOKY TRIP
But then comes the roadshow and
suddenly the acidheads are in – a brand
new spooky trip, a theatrical freakout to make Bowie’s later Ziggy and
Vince Furnier’s Alice seem like cute
kindergarteners. ‘We did a whole voodoo
show. We did what you would actually see
(at a voodoo ceremony) but made it into
show business, which was taking what you
used to do with minstrels and mixing it
with stuff from the Mardi Gras indians…’ is
how the Dr explains it.
There was feathers and fur, smoke and
incense, tribal dances and stuff with staffs
and skulls, a bit like Screaming Jay Hawkins
but… for real.
‘Let me tell you, I thought he was a
dork,’ is how the late Gregg Allman –
the hardest, scariest man I ever tried to
interview – remembers supporting Dr
John back in the day. ‘The way he talked,
I thought he was jive because I figured he
was just putting it on…
‘Well, I walked into this dressing room
and this one broad had two scarves and
she was behind him and she had them
boys tightened down and these other two
broads were popping him in the arm.
ì
Priced £19.50, the 180g reissue of
Dr John’s The Sun, Moon & Herbs is
available to order online from www.juno.co.uk
‘I froze, and he said, “Well s**t man,
they’re just my get-together drops. Don’t
have no conniption on me!
‘“My get together drops!” That’s when
I knew he didn’t put on an act… I was
thinking, “F**k me, that would kill my ass!”’
Dr John, it seems, was truly made of
the mojo and took it so serious he asked
some reverend mothers back home for
permission to meddle with the spirits.
They gave their blessing, under certain
constraints, and when the record took
off, he repaid them in royalties to help
legitimise their church in the eyes of the
law. ‘They taught me how to cure people
with plants and what you look for in the
earth,’ the Dr recalls. ‘These days they
call that homeopathical medications
or whatever. In Louisiana this is part of
Choctaw traditions, African traditions…’
Three albums followed in much the
same vein: Babylon in ’69; Remedies in
1970, with one whole side dedicated to
a lifer’s lament from Angola Pen; and then
our disc, his grand farewell to the carnival
of souls, 1971’s The Sun, Moon & Herbs,
recorded in exile from his drugged-up band
at Trident Studios in London. Maybe not as
famous as Gris-Gris but with its magnum
opus ‘I Walk On Gilded Splinters’, Sun,
Moon… is easily its match.
SNAKE EGGS
The band are pretty much Derek & The
Dominos with other freaked-out scenesters
such as Graham Bond and Bobby Keyes on
sax and Jim Price on trumpet. Eric Clapton
plays guitar and those unsung heroines of
soulful swampadelica Doris Troy, Shirley
Goodman, Tami Lynn and PP Arnold carry
the vocal load. And Mick Jagger’s in there
somewhere too, caught up in the Dr’s spell.
The recording’s planned as a triple
LP but by the time the Dr gets down to
Atlantic’s Criteria Studios in Miami, the
tapes have been butchered by his manager
Charles Green and what we got now is a
single LP assembled from the wreckage by
the Dr and ace producer Tom Dowd.
And what it is, is brilliant. From the
opener ‘Black John The Conqueror’,
through the deja-vu centrepiece of
‘Familiar Reality’ to the crowning glory of
‘Zu Zu Mamou’ (complete with a spookyass whispered conversation about snake
eggs), this is one funky soup full of recipes,
threats, promises and predictions.
‘In life, in religion, as in food or race or
music, you can’t separate nothing from
nothing. Everything mingles each into the
other – Catholic saint worship with GrisGris spirits, evangelical tent meetings with
spiritual church ceremonies – until nothing
is purely itself but becomes part of one
fonky gumbo,’ is the Dr’s assessment and
you won’t hear no argument from me.
This is not stuff you listen to, it’s stuff
that envelops you, and no-one’s really been
here since. Not even the Dr himself.
‘I decided that I’d had enough of the
coo-de-fiyo hoodoo show so I dumped the
routine…’ he reminisced recently. And then
he came clean: ‘All the stuff that we were
wearing (for the Gris-Gris shows) burned
up in a fire at Studio Instrument Rentals,
and it was hard to keep doing the shows…
but by the time of Gumbo, I’ll be straight
up, instead of buying more stuff, I took the
money and copped some dope with it…’
The Dr’s next LP was indeed Gumbo,
more of a museum piece really, celebrating
R&B standards from New Orleans, which is
by and large what the Dr’s been up to ever
since. All fine and dandy but…
…Look up The Sun, Moon & Herbs on
YouTube and scroll down the comments
underneath the first entire album playback.
Here you’ll find someone called Saumon
Georges who says:
‘That what I play when I bleed a black
chicken. Nothing else works…’
It’s followed by an anonymous post:
‘Saumon Georges. Try again. Help get rid of
the Donald. Thanks Comrade.’
The Gris-Gris lives!
RE-RELEASE VERDICT
Released on the Music On Vinyl imprint,
this 180g reissue comes in a sturdy
gatefold sleeve bearing the original
artwork. Inside can be found an inner
sleeve on which is printed art and song
lyrics while the label is yellow with the
ATCO ‘colour wheel’ to the left of the
centre hole as per the 1971 US release.
As we’ve found with past MOV reissues,
presentation is exemplary while vinyl
quality is first-rate, our copy having no
warping, needle weave, or inner-groove
distortion. At £19.50 it’s fine value too. HFN
Sound Quality: 87%
0
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-
-
-
-
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- 100
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 79
VINYL ICONS
BEHIND THE MUSIC WITH HI-FI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW
Chuck Berry The Great Twenty-Eight
His songs were covered by The Beatles and The Stones, inspired Dylan and defined the
elements of the music that would be known as rock ’n’ roll. We celebrate the remarkable
achievements of Charles Edward Anderson Berry, who passed away in March this year
Words: Johnny Black
80 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
HUGE DEBT
The three biggest bands of the ’60s
– The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and
The Beach Boys – all owed a huge
debt to Chuck Berry. The Stones
started their recording career in
1963 with a cover of Berry’s ‘Come
On’, The Beatles’ 1963 version of
Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ was
released as a single in America,
while in the same year The Beach
Boys’ fourth single, ‘Surfin’ USA’,
was so closely modelled on
Chuck’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’
that he sued them and won.
Even the era’s most revered
singer-songwriter, Bob
Dylan, based his 1965 hit
‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
solidly on Berry’s ‘Too Much
Monkey Business’.
Assuming I’ve adequately
established the man’s credentials,
let’s take a look at the songs
themselves in the context of
Berry’s career. It’s not possible
in the space available to
document details of every
CHUCK BERRY’S MANAGEMENT
Poster
for a
performance
in Austin,
Texas held in
January, 2006
ì
Berry on
stage in
2013 during
a tour that
would take
him to Russia
ì
The
single
‘Johnny B.
Goode’ on the
Chess label
ì
Promo
shot
from the early
1950s
ì
Berry
at the
1979 Capital
Radio Jazz
Festival,
Alexandra
Palace
ê
Berry
poses in
1957 with his
white 1955
Gibson guitar
STEVE POWELL
B
ì
CHUCK BERRY’S MANAGEMENT
efore you start Tweeting,
Snapchatting or otherwise
socially mediating your
disgust that the recently
departed Chuck Berry’s The Great
Twenty-Eight is not an album
according to the generally accepted
parameters of Vinyl Icon, let me
point out that I already know. And I
don’t care one dingo’s kidney.
When Chuck Berry was at the
astonishing peak of his creative
powers, back in the mid-’50s, black
rock ’n’ rollers were simply not given
the opportunity to release albums.
Chuck’s first album-length outing
was After School Session, released in
May 1957, on which every track had
previously been released on a single.
He did not release what we would
now consider a ‘proper’ album, New
Juke Box Hits, until March 1961.
So to find a vinyl album which
truly represents Chuck Berry at his
best, a well-thought-out compilation
is as good as we’re going to get. The
Great Twenty-Eight assuredly fulfils
that criterion. Released in 1982 as a
double LP, it starts with Berry’s first
hit, ‘Maybellene’ from 1955 and
proceeds through 27 more songs
which have become the staple diet
of rock ’n’ roll ever since.
track on The Great Twenty-Eight, but
even a representative fistful gives a
good indication of the importance
and influence of Berry in the grand
scheme of things.
That very first hit, ‘Maybellene’
– note the spelling – was an
adaptation of the Western Swing
song ‘Ida Red’, as recorded in 1938
by Bob Wills And
His Texas Playboys.
At the time, Chess
Records was
exploring ways to
expand the label’s
appeal beyond
the purely
blues arena,
and what owner Leonard
Chess described as ‘a hillbilly
song sung by
a black man’
clearly had
potential
for reaching
the growing
young white audience. ‘The kids
wanted the big beat, cars and young
love,’ Chess recalled. ‘It was the
trend and we jumped on it.’ He
achieved his goal by having Berry
update Ida Red’s lyric, and record
it with the addition of a bass
and maracas. The song’s new title
is said to have been inspired when
a box of Maybelline mascara was
spotted on the studio floor. To avoid
the possibility of being sued by the
cosmetics company, the spelling of
the title was altered.
Every bit as significant as Berry’s
teen-oriented lyric is the fact that
the lineup –
unusual in an era
still dominated
by big band jazz
and orchestrated
pop – consisted of
a minimal electric
guitar, piano, bass
and percussion.
Before long that would become
the standard lineup for rock ’n’ roll
combos everywhere.
‘Berry sued The
Beach Boys
over their fourth
single and won’
EARLY RAP
His fifth single, ‘Too Much Monkey
Business’ (1956), as noted earlier,
became the template for Bob
Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick
Blues’, but before we start dissing
Dylan for stealing from Chuck,
it’s worth checking out Hank
Williams’ 1949 song ‘Mind Your
Own Business’, which was clearly an
influence on Berry. It’s also worth
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 81
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VINYL ICONS
PRODUCTION NOTES
Legendary producer Phil Ramone
once pointed out that, ‘People
forget, Chicago became the place
to record in the ’50s.’ And the
consensus was that the finest of
studios to be found in the Windy
City was Universal Recording, where
Chuck Berry recorded some of his
earliest hits. Comprising two studios,
each boasted a custom-built console
complete with rotary faders, 12
inputs, preamps and dedicated echo
sends. These operated in tandem
with two mastering rooms, one
stocked with a Scully lathe, the other
having a custom belt-driven turntable
with Olsen cutting heads.
‘Maybellene’, ‘Too Much Monkey
Business’ and ‘School Days’ are
among the tracks Berry recorded
in Universal, but by the time he
recorded ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ in
1956, he was working at Chess’s
own Chicago studio located at 2120
South Michigan Avenue.
Chess engineer Ron Malo, who
worked with Berry, Bo Diddley and
The Stones once recalled, ‘The studio
at 2120 was an exceptional piece of
engineering. It was a room within a
room, adjustable walls, state-of-theart microphones, and so on.’
Those adjustable walls were, more
precisely, nine adjustable panels used
to control resonance and isolate
instruments for recording purposes.
Rather than the standard square or
rectangular configuration, the Chess
studio was more like an elongated
hallway, not particularly large, but
featuring an extremely high ceiling.
Chess was also proud of its echo
chamber. The studio itself would be
filled with musicians and, if echo was
required, it was achieved via a tube
feeding down into a large room in
the basement. Down there would
be one solitary amplifier, ensuring
that nothing else but this amp would
sound in the chamber.
noting that almost every significant
British ’60s band covered it, from
The Beatles (1963) to The Hollies,
The Kinks and The Yardbirds (1964).
Perhaps more significantly, with its
rapid-fire, staccato, monotone lyric
it has often been cited as an early
example of rap.
Another 1956 Berry classic
was ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. This
was his rallying call to the rock ’n’
roll teens of America, declaring
that Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and
their ilk were no
longer relevant
to young people.
Whether or not
you agree with the
sentiment, it was
an inspired choice
of subject matter,
drilling right down
to the core of rebellious youth. In
1962, a mere six words from the
song’s lyric, ‘a shot of rhythm and
blues’, inspired the title of a new
song which, in itself, became a
standard covered by The Beatles,
Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, Gerry
And The Pacemakers, Van Morrison,
Suzi Quatro and others.
opening guitar riff iss a dead
ringer for the introductory singlenote solo on Louis Jordan’s ‘Ain’t
That Just Like A Woman’ (1946). In
1977, Johnny B. Goode was rocketed
into space aboard NASA’s Voyager
probe as a piece representative of
modern music on Earth.
RELENTLESS DRIVE
Berry’s biggest hit of the ’50s was
‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ (1958), which
peaked at No 2 on the Billboard Hot
100. Berry always
said the ‘secret’
of his songwriting
consisted of
simple melodies
allied to lyrics
that any
teenager could
understand, and
‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ fulfils those
criteria to the max.
Any 16-year-old American
schoolgirl would have identified
with the subject of this song. When
school is over, she plays mum and
dad against each other to get
permission to go to the rock ’n’ roll
show, where she wears lipstick and
high-heels. Like most of his singles,
the song has a relentless drive but
it’s Chuck’s start-stop guitar licks
that make it a must for dancers.
Nineteen-fifty-eight also brought
‘Carol’, arguably one of Berry’s
minor cuts, so simple it’s almost
throwaway, but it was covered by
not just The Beatles and The Rolling
‘Chuck’s start-stop
guitar licks make
the song a must
for dancers’
OUT OF THIS WORLD
‘Johnny B. Goode’, from 1958, is
considered to be the first hit song
about achieving success as a rock
’n’ roll performer. In yet another
act of homage (or shameless
misappropriation, depending on
your perspective) Johnny B. Goode’s
é
Chess
singles
‘Maybellene’
from 1955
(top) and
‘Nadine’,
which was
released in
1964
ë
Chess
Records
publicity
photograph
from 1972,
the year
Berry enjoyed
No 1 success
on both sides
of the Atlantic
with ‘My
Ding-A-Ling’
í
The
Chess
Records
studios at
2120 South
Michigan
Avenue in
Chicago,
which was
immortalised
by The Rolling
Stones’
instrumental
of the same
name
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 83
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ì
At the Virgin Fest 2008 and
(below) his famous ‘duckwalk’
Stones, but also by The Yardbirds,
Status Quo, Tom Petty and a host of
others. Like so many of his songs, it
became a standard, and precisely
because his hits were so simple
he frequently toured without a
band, picking up backing musicians
wherever he went, secure in the
knowledge that they’d all know how
to play his tunes.
Yet another 1958 gem was
‘Memphis’, which racked up even
more cover versions than ‘Carol’,
perhaps partly
because of Berry’s
clever lyric whose
twist in the tail
ending reveals
that the song’s
heroine, Marie,
for whom he is
yearning, is not
some desirable teen goddess but the
six-year-old daughter from whom he
has been parted since he and her
mother split up.
No 37 in the Hot 100, but it clearly
inspired The Beatles’ tongue-incheek ‘Back In The USSR’ (1968)
and became a major hit again when
covered by Linda Ronstadt in 1978.
Nineteen-sixty-four’s ‘No
Particular Place To Go’, based largely
on the musical structure of his 1957
hit ‘School Days’, is an example
of Chuck Berry in his humorous
story-song mode. He manages
to combine two of his standard
themes – cars and romance – with
the neat twist that when the couple
decide to exit the car for a romantic
stroll, the girl’s seat belt refuses to
unclip, bringing the evening to an
unsatisfactory conclusion.
Another fine example of Berry in
story-telling mode came with 1964’s
‘Nadine’ which, musically, harks right
back to ‘Maybellene’ but lyrically has
advanced to a remarkable extent.
Berry tells of pursuing a vision of
loveliness by bus, yellow cab and
on foot, using rapidly delivered
phrases to stress
the urgency
of the chase
interspersed
with colourful
expressions such
as had rarely
been heard
in rock’ n’ roll
before. ‘I was pushin’ through the
crowd to get to where she’s at,’ he
sings, ‘And I was campaign shouting
like a southern diplomat.’
The Great Twenty-Eight then,
offers an embarrassment of riches
which demonstrate vividly how
Chuck Berry established not only
the guitar licks and the lyric
themes of rock ’n’ roll but
also the basic format of rock
’n’ roll bands, setting them
apart from the swing and
jazz ensembles which
preceded them.
Only a complete fool
would deny the parts
played
by Elvis
Presley,
Bill Haley
and others, who
undeniably sold more
records than Berry in the
1950s, but Chuck was the
one that every aspiring
rock ’n’ roll combo
attempted to emulate.
‘He established
the basic format
for rock ’n’ roll
bands themselves’
SCINTILLATING PIANO
‘Back In The USA’, from 1959,
features some scintillating
piano from Berry’s longtime
accompanist Johnnie Johnson,
and sits comfortably between
Bobby Troup’s ‘Route
66’ (1946) and his
own ‘Promised
Land’ (1964) as
a tune based on
North American
topography.
This was Chuck’s
love song to the
United States,
singing the praises
of freeways,
skyscrapers and
drive-ins, not to
mention just about
every city on the map.
Berry’s version only made
Given that Chuck’s first four LPs
– After School Session (1957),
One Dozen Berrys (1958),
Chuck Berry Is On Top (1959)
and Rockin’ At The Hops (1960)
– were simply re-packagings
of his most recent singles, it
seems appropriate to use this
discography space to examine
a handful of the most desirable
Chuck Berry compilations,
starting of course, with this
month’s Vinyl Icon.
THE GREAT TWENTY-EIGHT
(1982) CHESS RECORDS
Ranked at No 21 on Rolling
Stone magazine’s list of
the 500 Greatest Albums
Of All Time, this double
album [CH8201] is generally
considered the best collection
of Chuck’s finest moments
and, thankfully, did not include
the execrable ‘My Ding-A-Ling’
which, in 1972, provided the
veritable inventor of rock ’n’ roll
with not only his biggest hit but
also his lowest recorded nadir.
ANTHOLOGY (2000)
CHESS RECORDS
All the tracks on The Great
Twenty-Eight can be found on
this double CD set [112 304-2],
whose 50 selections include
every Chuck Berry single
from his 1955 debut through
to March 1965, with the
exceptions of ‘Merry Christmas
Baby’, ‘Anthony Boy’, ‘Chuck’s
Beat’ and ‘Little Marie’.
It’s sad to reflect that those
memorable tracks could have
been included were it not for
the fact that Chess opted to
include a handful of post-1965
cuts including, you guessed it,
‘My Ding-A-Ling’. Anthology was
re-packaged by Geffen in 2005
in its Gold series.
THE CHESS BOX (1988)
CHESS RECORDS
Offering 21 more tracks than
Anthology, this 6LP set [CH680001, pictured below] has
been nicely remastered by
Doug Schwartz and comes with
a large, 32-page glossy booklet.
And yes, it does include those
cuts missed off Anthology.
THE CHESS YEARS (1991)
CHARLY RECORDS
Completists should consider
this desirable 9CD artefact [CD
RED BOX 2], which includes all
220 tracks recorded by Chuck
for Chess, along with a useful
68-page booklet incorporating
locations, dates and session
players as well as a history by
Adam Komorowski. Inevitably
there are low points, but
anyone who wants to examine
Chuck’s output in detail will
find it very rewarding indeed.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 85
Meet the Producers
MEET THE PRODUCERS
BEHIND THE MUSIC WITH HI-FI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW
John Leckie
Renowned for taking underground bands overground, this British producer has been
behind the desk for the birth of such classics as The Stone Roses’ debut album and
Radiohead’s The Bends. Steve Sutherland on the man whose secret weapon is mystery
I
EMI RECORDS (UK)
UNUSUAL SOUNDS
Leckie had known the odds were
against him but he was still
nobly up for the crack. He’d
engineered Syd’s second LP,
the fabulous but fractured
Barrett. That time Syd was
just about there: ‘Well,
he had songs and he was
singing. He could make
it through from the start
to the finish of the song.
He was kind of together.’
It’s true to say, ladies and
gentlemen, that very little
fazes John Leckie.
A non-musician who’d
started out in 1970
aged 21 as a house tape
operator at EMI’s Abbey
Road Studios, he’d
handled the spools for
John and Yoko during
the making of the Plastic
86 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
î
Tools
of the
trade... John
Leckie poses
with a pair of
Unity Audio’s
Rock MkII
Professional
two-way
active
monitors
ê
Syd
Barrett
pictured in
1969. ‘He
was kind of
together...’
says Leckie of
Pink Floyd’s
original frontman, but an
attempt at
a third solo
album failed
UNITY AUDIO LTD
t must have seemed like a
good idea at the time. Record
an album in a week. Guitar on
Monday, drums on Tuesday,
bass on Wednesday, keyboards on
Thursday, vocals on Friday, overdubs
Saturday, mix on Sunday. Voila! Job
done with expectations not too
high, hence minimal stress on the
artist and all others concerned.
‘We never got further than the
guitar really,’ laughs the bloke who
devised the cunning plan. ‘He was
a bit out there. You couldn’t really
communicate with him. He would
sort of drift off and leave the studio.
None of the songs were finished.
Well, they weren’t really songs as
such, they were more like 12-bar
blues on the guitar, which he never
really got through. He’d only get to
the tenth bar… It was sad really.’
‘He’ was Syd Barrett and the
geezer talking is John Leckie,
reminiscing about his abortive
attempt to get a third solo longplayer out of the frazzled genius
who’d started, then been booted
out, of Pink Floyd.
Ono Band LP – a pretty fraught
time for both – plus he’d worked
on George Harrison’s triple album,
All Things Must Pass, a protracted
session which often found the exFab huddled in a corner, chanting
to himself. Lest these tasks not be
daunting enough,
presiding over both
was Phil Spector,
hardly the most
stable of mentors.
Leckie was fine
with it all. In fact, he
later confessed, he
wasn’t that into
The Beatles at the time, more
intrigued by Stockhausen,
Luciano Berio and other
madcaps meddling out there
in the early electronic ether.
Graduating from tape op
to engineer, he did some stuff
with Pink Floyd on their Meddle
LP, a gig which boosted him
up the ladder and also kind of
set out the philosophy he’d
take forward into his illustrious
production career.
‘I was interested in the
explorative nature of the music.
I wasn’t thinking, “They’ll sell 50
million records”. I was always
experimenting, always trying new
ideas… That probably came from
my thing with electronic music, of
being a bit more
adventurous,
listening to avantgarde music and
things. I was always
open to unusual
sounds or making
usual things
sound unusual…
Sometimes I’d succeed, sometimes it
would be a disaster…
‘My thing was you have to make
it sound not just good, but special…
I’d always try to make a sound that
no-one had ever heard before –
y’know, I’d always try to make the
acoustic guitar the best acoustic
guitar sound you’ve ever heard. And
how do you do that? You learn from
your mistakes, you use different mics
and experiment with the distance
where you place them.’
‘Leckie later
confessed he
wasn’t that into
The Beatles’
‘You learn what works and what
doesn’t work,’ he says of working
with envelope-pushers. ‘What takes
a lot of time and what doesn’t. I
mean, a lot of people have crazy
ideas and it can take hours to
exorcise a crazy idea and realise it’s
not working. You might waste days
in the studio pursuing something
that is not gonna work. So you get
to learn these things…’
Unlike many other producers,
Leckie sees himself more as an
extra member of the band than a
EMI RECORDS LTD
Be-Bop
Deluxe’s
Sunburst
Finish LP from
1974 was
Leckie’s first
production
credit. He
would make
two further
albums with
the band
(pictured
above right)
ì
Muse,
whose
debut album
Showbiz was
produced
by Leckie in
1999
ì
Charlie
Burchill
and Jim Kerr
of Simple
Minds in 2017
í
The
Stone
Roses in
1989, the
year of their
debut LP
CAROLINE INTERNATIONAL
FOUR BIG EGOS
ë
JEFF FONEY
Leckie’s adventurous spirit and
easy-going nature appealed to
questing musicians and by the time
he got his first solo break as studio
boss, he’d pretty much seen – but
crucially not heard – it all.
His first production credit
appeared in 1974 on Sunburst
Finish, the third album by Bill
Nelson’s futuristic Be-Bop Deluxe.
Further production work followed
swiftly with fellow sonic mavericks
XTC (White Music), Magazine (Real
Life) and Simple Minds (Life In A Day,
Real To Real Cacophony, Empires
And Dance), Leckie enthralled by the
electronic possibilities being trialled
by guitarists Andy Partridge, John
McGeoch and Charlie Burchill.
dictator like, say, Spector. That and a
peacemaker and psychiatrist!
‘It’s to do with communication.
I know how to handle bands,
musicians who are a bit wobbly or
not very good. Most bands consist
of four blokes with very big egos.
They are all desperate to succeed
and there’s a love/hate relationship
within the band in what they feel
towards each other. It’s about
being able to make everyone happy.
Because you know you’ve got to
get a result from the performances,
whether it’s to do with the vocalist
or a drummer or something…’
TRASHING STUDIOS
Unafraid to take chances, Leckie
took on Public Image Ltd, Pil’s
fabulous first single, which he
describes as, ‘the highest highs and
the lowest lows’, trying to cope with
John Lydon’s ‘rude and aggressive’
combo who seemed as intent on
trashing studios as they did on
making a musical statement.
He also survived three LPs with
Mark E Smith’s Fall (Wonderful &
Frightening World Of…, This Nation’s
Saving Grace and Bend Sinister), by
anyone’s standards a Herculean task.
Then, in 1988, he produced
The Stones Roses’ eponymous
magnificent debut, the album
that many consider the defining
moment of his career. What made
this particular record so special?
‘The music, the songs, the
performances, the characters… I
saw them as four equals. I didn’t
see them as a singer with some
musicians. I saw them as having
equal value to the overall sound
and I gave the four of them equal
attention. Over the years people
have criticised the record and
said, “Oh, it needs more bass
and drums”, “It needs to sound
heavier”, “It needs more guitar”,
“I can’t hear the vocals, turn them
up”… that kind of thing. But I think
I succeeded because it’s lasted so
long and remains very listenable. It
hasn’t dated at all.
‘There’s a lot of mystery to the
record as well. That’s one of my
other secret weapons, making
it sound somehow mysterious,
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 87
MEET THE PRODUCERS
BEHIND THE MUSIC WITH HI-FI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW
1978
1978
1985
1989
1993
1995
2001
Recorded at
Abbey Road and
using the Manor
Mobile studio,
Magazine’s
pioneering postpunk debut, Real
Life, enters the
UK Top 30 album
charts at No 29
Recorded in just
a week, XTC’s
White Music
peaks at No 38
in the UK album
charts and
spawns two hit
singles: ‘Statue
Of Liberty’ and
‘This Is Pop?’
Leckie and band
singer Mark E
Smith scrap days
of work in order
to rid the mix
of keyboards.
This Nation’s
Saving Grace
is considered a
masterpiece
The Stone Roses’
self-titled debut
takes 55 days to
record, off and
on. The result is
an LP some say
is the greatest
ever made
Verve’s A Storm
In Heaven proves
to be another
landmark debut,
Leckie and the
band often laying
down tracks into
the small hours
Leckie enters
the studio with
Radiohead for
the first time.
The Bends lifts
them from indie
one-hit wonders
to the big league
Leckie attends to
the experimental
tracks while
producer Dave
Bottrill handles
‘the hits’. Origin
Of Symmetry
sees Muse peak
at No 3 in the UK
album charts
AURAL HALLUCINATION
‘There’s a lot of that going on
with The Stone Roses. People call
it psychedelic or something and
maybe it is… uh… hallucinationproducing, aural
hallucinations of
what you actually
hear. Y’know, “can I
hear bells or is it the
guitar?” That’s part
of my style.’
Leckie also
worked on the longdelayed and disappointing follow-up,
Second Coming, where he found
the band less unified and unfocused.
But by then he’d discovered a new
passion in the shape of The Verve.
‘I saw them in a pub in Camden
Town as a support band and I just
couldn’t believe it. They were
classical, cosmic and psychedelic
and it blew me away. There were
moments when it was so quiet you
could hear a pin drop and then it
would just… explode!
‘The guitar sounds – I hadn’t
heard anything like it before –
and all these kind of trance drum
rhythms. And then there was Richard
Ashcroft, the singer, who was either
hanging from the ceiling or on the
floor. He was like a ballet
dancer. And the lyrics were
all streams of consciousness.
‘And there they were,
signed to Virgin, and I was
like, “Please, please, please
let me do the record!”’
The progeny of his ardour
was A Storm In Heaven, the
band’s excellent debut LP
which Leckie surprisingly
harbours some regrets over.
‘I don’t know that I was
completely successful in capturing
their sound,’ he says. ‘Live, some of
their songs were 30
minutes or more.
Sometimes they’d
play one song for
the whole set.
My brief from the
record company
was to trim the
songs to three or
four minutes each. I think we might
have over-rehearsed… That record
would have been great if it had
been just one song, one piece… like
Tubular Bells or something…’
‘“I love playing
them back loud,
through very
big speakers!”’
ë
John
Leckie
poses for the
camera in
the studio in
2006
î
In 2014
Leckie
started
working with
indie band
Palma Violets
‘It’s a team effort,’
is his take on his chosen
profession. ‘The one thing
I really hate in the studio is
when musicians, like, say,
the guitarist, comes in, puts
on his guitar and says, “what
do you want me to play?”
I go, “I want you to play
your music”.
‘It’s very easy to put all
the onus on the producer
when, in fact, I’d rather it was the
other way round. It’s your music.
You’ve written it. You’re performing
it… I just love being in the studio
working on records with like-minded
people and playing them back loud,
through very big speakers!’
For further insights into his
career, check out the excellent
two-part John Leckie Story which
can be found on Cherry Red Records’
YouTube channel at www.youtube.
com/cherryredgroup.
WAY TO THE STADIUM
Onwards and upwards. Leckie then
did Radiohead’s The Bends, creating
a breakthrough album from a bunch
of sessions set up primarily to find a
hit single, and the first two longplayers which boosted Muse on their
way to the stadiums, Showbiz and
Origin Of Symmetry.
More recently he took the
roustabout London band Palma
Violets under his wing, producing
the marvellous Danger In The Club.
TOM BEARD
like there’s something behind the
curtain and you don’t really get it
on the first listen. Like The Beatles’
records, y’know, ‘I Am The Walrus’ or
something where you always hear
something like a little sound way out
of the left hand speaker and you’re
like, “What’s that? I never noticed
that before!”
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 89
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V1154
ALBUM
REVIEWS
ALBUM REVIEWS: VINYL
LEON RUSSELL
Leon Russell
Audio Fidelity AFZLP257 (180g blue vinyl)
As with Ry Cooder, Russell was a studio veteran
when he released his eponymous 1970 debut.
From Phil Spector to Joe Cocker to George
Harrison and possibly half of the USA’s pop
recordings released in the 1960s, Russell
honed his chops in every genre, but excelled
with swamp rock with a New Orleans feel.
This set of originals, with stellar guests as
per Cooder, contained what are now oftcovered gems including ‘A Song For You’,
‘Hummingbird’, ‘Delta Lady’, ‘Dixie Lullaby’
and the wondrous ‘Roll Away The Stone’.
Like Dr John, Russell was a bouillabaisse of
American roots music, sharing his rolling piano
and woozy vocals. We lost him last year, but
not before he realised that he was adored. KK
Sound Quality: 91%
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AIMEE MANN
SHELDON ALLMAN
VARIOUS
Mental Illness
Folk Songs For The 21st Century
Mighty Instrumentals R&B Style Two-Parters
SuperEgo SE042 (180g pink vinyl)
Modern Harmonic/Sundazed MH-8024 (180g green vinyl)
R&B R&B17 (180g vinyl)
With a title like that, I should run a mile.
Leonard Cohen may be gone, but here
Mann employs introspection at Cohen
levels, sounding like the fruit of a tryst
between him and Joni Mitchell. Conversely,
Mann is the exception to my rule about ‘no
navel-gazing’ because her melodies tug at
the heartstrings. Despite any impression
that she’s fragile, the fiftysomething has
survived the music biz for over 30 years,
and here she sounds like an observer, not a
sufferer. This album is simply gorgeous, and
it avoids modern neuroses by sheer dint of
her craft. File under ‘must own’ if you ever
succumbed to Laura Nyro or, indeed, Joni.
Mann is certainly their equal. KK
Where Sundazed finds this stuff, I don’t
want to know. The latest in its run of
‘period’ science fiction-themed releases
from the immediate post-Sputnik era is the
strangest yet. It offers (or throws up) 14
songs with titles like ‘Radioactive Mama’,
‘Univac And The Humanoid’ and ‘Extra
Sensory Perception’, and lyrics such as ‘It
conquered the world and left me blue’ and
‘Crawl out through the fallout, baby, and
I’ll kiss those burns away’. The non-sequitur
backing? It veers from country swing to
nightclub schmaltz. I wish I owned this in
the 1960s, when I was out of my head. This
is one of the most bizarre albums I’ve ever
heard. Sense of humour mandatory. KK
A clever idea, inspired by CD. Although the
sound quality will drive most of you away
if you’re of the ‘sound is more important
than the music school’ of audiophilia, fans
of vocals-free music will salute this. The idea
here is to take a bunch of those great, often
sax- or organ-driven R&B instrumentals of
the early 1960s that were issued as twoparters due to the playing times of 45rpm
singles, and to release them without gaps.
Apparently, according to Rhythm & Blues
Records, most CD transfers leave distracting
2s silences between the parts. ‘Swingin’
Peter Gunn’, ‘Tubby’ by the legendary New
Orleans pianist James Booker and eight
more, just for dancing. KK
Sound Quality: 90%
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92 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
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AUDIOPHILE: DIGITAL
COMPACT DISC
SUPERAUDIO
DVD
BLU-RAY
VINYL
DOWNLOAD
FOREIGNER
JIMI HENDRIX
THE STANDELLS
40
People, Hell And Angels
Try It
Rhino 081227935306 (two discs)
Analogue Productions CAPP73982SA
Sundazed SC6340 (mono)
Denoting the band’s anniversary and the
number of tracks on this double, 40 is
a stadium rock/ballad/anthem primer –
Foreigner deserve as much blame as any
for establishing the genre in the ’70s. This
nicely-assembled package covers 19772017 with the No 1 monster hit ‘I Want To
Know What Love Is’ and songs from each of
their nine studio albums. All are remastered:
16 Top 30 hits, including ‘Feels Like The
First Time’, ‘Cold As Ice’, and ‘Waiting For A
Girl Like You’, the CD debut of ‘The Flame
Still Burns,’ and two new tracks, ‘Give
My Life For Love’ and a new version of ‘I
Don’t Want To Live Without You’. (It’s also
available on LP with 23 tracks.) KK
Another superlative posthumous package
made better by Analogue Productions, the
perfect companion to Machine Gun [HFN,
Jun ’17], this gathers together 12 tracks
from 1968-9. The reason it mates perfectly
with Machine Gun is the lineup: this is the
precursor to Band Of Gypsys, with primary
players Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. The link
to The Experience, then nearing its finish,
is Mitch Mitchell on a few tracks; and Steve
Stills guests, too. All unreleased material,
including some delicious blues and fresh
interpretations of known songs, all superbly
recorded, this is a truly rare occasion when
one can tell even the hard-core Hendrix fan
that it’s a must-have. KK
Their farewell LP from 1967, although
the band re-forms from time to time,
this expanded package in punchy mono
also contains tracks from the hard-to-find
soundtrack Riot On Sunset Strip plus a rare
single. Less cohesive than its predecessors,
Try It still exemplifies what ‘garage rock’,
the 1960s precursor to indie, could sound
like when the musicians could actually
handle their instruments – the title track is
an exemplar of the genre. Their ‘pre-punk’
sound is addressed in the mix of originals
and covers, some good, some not, but it’s
still worth owning if you have ever worn out
a copy of Nuggets. Also available minus one
track on LP, Sundazed LP5548. KK
Sound Quality: 85%
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RY COODER
Paradise And Lunch
Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2159 (stereo SACD)
By the time Ry Cooder issued his first solo
LP in 1970, he’d played with everyone ‘hip’,
including The Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart
and Randy Newman, and had a ‘heavy rep’ as
a guy who could play anything with strings on
it. This album from 1974, his fourth, followed a
pattern set by his eponymous debut: the cream
of studio musicians and a track mix so eclectic
that it comes across as a course in Americana.
Compositions ranged from Blind Willie
McTell to Bobby Womack to Burt Bacharach,
embracing soul, blues, funk and standards.
Arguably his best solo album, this set features
a particular treat for its final track: a duet with
the legendary Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines. Confirmation
of his greatness comes no higher. KK
Sound Quality: 92%
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AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 93
ALBUM
REVIEWS
HI-RES DOWNLOADS
CRAIG TAYBORN
Daylight Ghosts (96kHz/24-bit, FLAC)
www.highresaudio.com; ECM 5713805
(‘Azul Tango’). This album achieves the
near impossible in that every track –
and there are 18 – is excellent, and the
recording quality consistently excellent
too. It’s difficult to pick a favourite,
but ‘Tango Pour Claude’ may come
close. Tremendous rhythms and ace
musicianship make this album ideal
driving music – or in a mix with say,
some rock and Afro-pop, the perfect
motive force behind a great party. BW
The title implies a haunted existence – by
whom or by what we cannot tell from the
imploring nature of this collection of often
lengthy jazz instrumentals, some murky
and meandering (‘Abandoned Reminder’,
‘The Great Silence’) and others quirky and
upbeat (‘New Glory’). Taborn and crew
tentatively explore a musical netherworld,
here and there casting light into the
shadows – ‘Ancient’, for example, opens
with an extended, almost inarticulate bass
solo, before other instruments reluctantly
enter the fray. The repeated, intensifying
figures near the end of this piece do
achieve an intellectual resolution, if not
an emotional one, while the sweetly
mournful ‘Jamaican Farewell’ has the listless
ambience of a sailing venture undertaken
on a nearly windless morning. ‘Phantom
Ratio’ follows a similar trajectory, while ‘The
Shining One’ provides a bumpier ride. BW
Sound Quality: 90%
Sound Quality: 85%
RICHARD GALLIANO
New Jazz Musette (88.2kHz/24-bit, FLAC)
www.highresaudio.com; Ponderoso 1155493592
This collaboration with Sylvain
Luc, André Ceccarelli, and Philippe
Aerts delivers nearly 90 minutes of
traditional French jazz – by definition,
a genre featuring virtuoso accordion
playing in every piece. What fun it is
– mostly upbeat, very energetic, and
totally engaging. The rollicking title
track sets the tone for what proves
to be a wide-ranging musical tour –
from moody (‘Giselle’, ‘Nice Blues’,
‘Ballade Pour Marion’ and ‘Love Day’)
to exhilarating (‘Fou Rire’, ‘Waltz
For Nicky’ and ‘Viaggio’) to dramatic
OUR PROMISE
Following our Investigation feature
[HFN, Jun ’11] where we examined
the claimed quality of high-resolution
downloads, Hi-Fi News & Record
Review is now measuring the true
sample rate and bit-depth of the HD
music downloads reviewed on these
pages. These unique reviews will be
a regular source of information for
those seeking new and re-mastered
recordings offered at high sample rates
and with the promise of delivering
the very best sound quality. (Note:
asterisk in headings denotes technical
reservation explained below.) PM
94 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
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LAB REPORT
Richard Galliano’s French accordion
(musette) has a very dense output, rich
in harmonics to beyond 20kHz, but it’s
the slap of percussion, and perhaps
distortion downstream, that constitutes
much of this file’s ultrasonic content. PM
0
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LAB REPORT
Aside from some very low-level spikes
around 20kHz and 40kHz, this is a very
clean 96kHz ECM recording. Percussion
accounts for much of the ultrasonic
energy but it looks ‘real’ rather than
bolstered by distortion. PM
SUPERAUDIO
COMPACT DISC
DVD
BLU-RAY
VINYL
DOWNLOAD
VIKTORIA TOLSTOY
ELGAR/TCHAIKOVSKY
BEETHOVEN/MOZART
Meet Me At The Movies (96kHz/24-bit, FLAC)*
Cello Concerto/Rococo Variations, Pezzo Capriccioso,
etc; Johannes Moser, Suisse Romande/Andrew Manze
(96kHz/24-bit, FLAC; DSD64)
Symphony No 5/Clarinet Concerto; Ricardo Morales,
Mito CO/Seiji Ozawa (96kHz/24-bit, FLAC)
www.highresaudio.com; ACTMusic ACT 9827-2
The ever-glamorous great-great-granddaughter of the author of War And Peace
claims a Swedish heart and a Russian soul,
and has recorded albums with those titles
to prove it. Since then she’s most often
been heard singing with her life partner,
pianist Jacob Karlzon, but she has chosen a
guitar trio format for this album of theme
songs. Guest stars Iiro Rantala on piano and
Nils Landgren on trombone flesh out the
lush opener, ‘Calling You’ from the 1987
movie Baghdad Cafe. ‘Marlowe’s Theme’
from Farewell My Lovely has a neat solo
from Rantala while guitarist Krister Jonsson
really comes into his own when he switches
to electric rock guitar – for example on
Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’ from Batman
Forever. Finally, Tolstoy breathes life into
Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’, to close an album
that reflects her pop side more than her
jazz credentials. SH
This new coupling faces serious competition
from my Jan ’14 ‘Album Choice’ Queyras/
Harmonia Mundi – Dvořák fillers there, and
with Pentatone the Pezzo Capriccioso and
two other short Tchaikovsky transcriptions.
One important difference, however, is that
Moser plays the original Rococo Variations
rather than the Fitzenhagen version which
so angered the composer. Moser won
a special prize at the 2002 Tchaikovsky
Competition for his interpretation. He
seems to repeat his success here and
there’s much charm in the short pieces
too. But he does have a tendency to
‘italicise’ and draw attention away from the
music to what he’s doing with it. Fine for
Tchaikovsky, perhaps, but the opening of
the Elgar brings fruity, wilful phrasing and
he’s more extreme even than Du Pré. CB
Recorded live in March 2016 at the
Art Tower Mito concert hall, this has a
Beethoven Fifth notable above all for
fidelity to dynamic markings. The firstmovement repeat is given but not that in
the finale – where the Piu allegro leading
to final Presto is especially well judged and
where the piccolo player articulates his
tricky phrases without a fluff. There’s wild
applause after both works but it’s possible
that the Concerto is soloist-directed (there’s
no booklet PDF but the Mito concert
listings say Ozawa only conducted a part
of the programme). One-time Philadelphia
principal Ricardo Morales has a reedy
sounding clarinet and he makes neat
dynamic distinctions piano/mf but it’s all
very traditional, whereas the BIS download
with Martin Frost is in an altogether more
relevant class for today’s listeners. CB
Sound Quality: 80%
Sound Quality: 80%
Sound Quality: 75%
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LAB REPORT
Spectral analysis indicates this ‘96kHz
package’ is something of a mixed bag. All
tracks are filtered above (a low) 26kHz,
tracks 3-5 [Graph] have a spurious peak
at this frequency while trk 8 shows peak
level clipping and bursts of distortion. PM
www.highresaudio.com; Pentatone PTC5186570
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LAB REPORT
How refreshing to discover a genuine
96kHz recording, and clean too with no
flyback noise from old CRTs in the studio
or digital spuriae from complex mixing/
mastering. Noise is low and dynamic
range is well used. It’s a good ’un. PM
www.highresaudio.com; Decca UCCD1433 (Japan)
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LAB REPORT
The full ~45kHz bandwidth available to
this 96kHz recording is used by the MCO,
particularly in the Allegro [trk 4, Graph].
Quieter passages reveal spurious tones at
35kHz, 40kHz and 45kHz [black, above].
Not directly audible, but messy. PM
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 95
ALBUM
REVIEWS
ROCK
LINDSAY BUCKINGHAM & CHRISTINE McVIE
Lindsay Buckingham Christine McVie
East West 0190295828318
In a world where nothing is certain, Lindsay
Buckingham is about as close as you can get
to a guarantee of high quality pop music, no
matter how old he gets. It was plain from the
mid-’70s onwards that he was the heart, soul
and brains of Fleetwood Mac and on this latest
collaboration with the Mac’s other superior
songwriter, Christine McVie, almost every track
could have been on Rumours and if it was,
would now be among your all-time favourites.
Does that mean they’re wallowing in pointless
nostalgia? Arguably yes, but when an album
includes ten impeccably composed, produced
and performed songs that make you want to
dance around the room, to complain would be
churlish. This is blissful folk-rock pop magic. JBk
Sound Quality: 94%
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EIKS
KATHRYN WILLIAMS
BELL X1
Braids
Songs From The Novel Greatest Hits
Arms
Bibichan Records BBCD002
One Little Indian TPLP1416CDP
Belly Up Records BU007CD
If you long to hear a beautiful, assured
female voice singing wonderful selfcomposed songs, you should check out this
stunning debut album. Details about Eiks
are currently scant, but she is, I’m given to
understand, a young woman who grew up
in Jordan and Japan but currently lives in
London. Her inspirations, Ryuichi Sakamoto
and Nick Drake, are both easy to hear in the
delicacy and careful structure of her music,
where every second seems considered and
every word chosen with care. When a hint
of understated percussion emerges in the
title track the effect is startling, but perfect.
Nothing here will dent the singles chart but
it could dent your heart. JBk
This is a truly fascinating project which
could have floundered badly but, thankfully,
rises above all of the potential pitfalls to
become a terrific album. Justly acclaimed
folksy singer-songwriter Williams has
collaborated with best-selling author Laura
Barnett to create songs based on her
latest novel, Greatest Hits, which tells the
story of a fictional singer. The pair worked
together on the lyrics and have wisely shied
away from attempting to create a concept
album, preferring instead to compose songs
which reflect moments in a life and their
attendant emotions. Devotees of Williams
can buy this with no fear that it will be in
any way forced or stilted. JBk
Despite achieving three No1 albums in
their native Ireland, sadly, Bell X1 haven’t
made much of an impression elsewhere.
Having weathered the loss of their original
frontman, the estimable Damien Rice, the
band has continued under the leadership
of Paul Noonan (originally their drummer)
whose achingly beautiful voice is at the
core of the nine songs here, which with
their subtle arrangements and eclectic
spirit remind me more of The Blue Nile
than anyone else. Tracks such as ‘Take
Your Sweet Time’ and ‘The Upswing’
feel somehow infused with warmth and
kindness – perfect songs for summer days,
but the whole album is gorgeous. JBk
Sound Quality: 91%
Sound Quality: 90%
Sound Quality: 91%
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96 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
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JAZZ
COMPACT DISC
SUPERAUDIO
DVD
BLU-RAY
VINYL
DOWNLOAD
CHRIS POTTER
DIZZY GILLESPIE QUARTET
KEVIN EUBANKS
The Dreamer Is The Dream
At Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall
East West Time Line
ECM 574 0661; 574 1473 (180g vinyl)
Jazzline N77037 (two discs); N78037 (LP box set)
Mack Avenue MAC1119
Here, the saxophonist leads a new quartet
made up of old collaborators. On bass is
Potter’s near-contemporary Joe Martin,
while the younger members are Cubanborn pianist David Virelles and drummer
Marcus Gilmore. Potter opens the suite-like
title track with some sinuously beautiful
bass clarinet, but returns on tenor after
Martin’s solo to build an impassioned
climax. On ‘Memory And Desire’, its otherworldly soundscape set up by electronics
and celeste, he sparkles on soprano. Potter
says that the quartet’s cross-generational
mix ‘feels special’, and indeed its supple,
engaging rhythms seem to inspire his most
buoyant playing. SH
One of an archive series that also offers
Elvin Jones, Chet Baker, et al, this was
recorded for NDR broadcast in 1978,
and clips can be seen on YouTube. For
touring, Gillespie had recruited two young
musicians, guitarist Rodney Jones and
electric bassist Benjamin Brown, to join
his long-term drummer Mickey Roker.
But guesting effectively in the second set
here is another old be-bop era colleague,
saxophonist Leo Wright. Gillespie clowns
as usual and keeps things simple and funky,
and the sound is as boxy as you’d expect
from a small crowded club, but the more
you listen the more you‘ll hear in this great
master’s playing. SH
An album of two halves, as the guitarist
fields his all-star NY group on five originals
before bringing on an impressive West
Coast quintet. Piano-less, the NY crew’s
title track is fast and virtuosic yet opentextured, thanks to peerless trumpeter
Nicholas Payton, drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts
and bassist Dave Holland. Later tracks move
fusion-wards with Orrin Evans on Rhodes.
Then it’s over to the west, as Eubanks
leads saxophonist Bill Pierce, bassist René
Camacho, percussionist Mino Cinelu, and
his old Tonight Show comrade Marvin
‘Smitty’ Smith on drums, through some
thoughtful and effective covers, including a
fresh and eloquent ‘What’s Going On’. SH
Sound Quality: 90%
Sound Quality: 75%
Sound Quality: 90%
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JAZZMEIA HORN
A Social Call
Prestige PRS00112
‘My name is Jazzmeia Horn and that is not a
mistake,’ says the Thelonious Monk award
winner, making her debut on Concord Music’s
newly-revived Prestige label. She scats joyfully
on a high-speed ‘I Remember You’, but she’s
also concerned to put over a message. On the
Gigi Gryce/Jon Hendricks song that gives the
album its title, she sings ‘We haven’t been
too well’ instead of ‘I haven’t...’ and suddenly
it’s ‘social’ as in ‘society’ and ‘community’.
There’s a devastatingly topical re-write of The
Stylistics’ ‘People Make The World Go Round’
and a stunning workout on ‘Moanin’’, but the
climax is a medley that collages ‘Afro Blue’ and
‘Wade In The Water’ with Horn’s own poem
‘Eye See You’. Not to be missed. SH
Sound Quality: 90%
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ALBUM
REVIEWS
CLASSICAL
COMPACT DISC
SUPERAUDIO
DVD
BLU-RAY
VINYL
DOWNLOAD
JS BACH
Italian Concerto; Partitas BWV825 and 827; ‘Jesu Joy’, etc
Rafal Blechacz
DG 479 5534 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)
The young Polish pianist (now 32) first learned
to play the organ, and he often returns to it,
saying that’s why, in the rippling BWV944
Fugue, he avoids (de)crescendi. He has
chosen a bright-toned piano here to achieve
a harpsichord-like tonal character. These are
sunlit performances, articulated with the
most nimble fingerwork. Dynamic and tempo
contrasts are fairly extreme (too much for some
perhaps, eg, in his speed for the Allemande
in BWV825?) in both the Partitas and Italian
Concerto, where the very slow Andante is
matched to Bach’s contemplative nature.
Blechacz’s musicality and imaginative responses
make this programme a sheer delight. CB
Sound Quality: 90%
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BEETHOVEN/BRAHMS/WEBER
MEDTNER/RACHMANINOV
SOUSA
Violin Concerto/Symphony No 1/Overture Oberon
Piano Concerto No 2/Piano Concerto No 3
A Celebration
Frank Peter Zimmermann/Dresden Orch/Bernard Haitink
Marc-André Hamelin/LPO/Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi
Profil PH09036 (two discs; downloads to 44.1kHz/16-bit resolution)
Hyperion CDA 68145 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)
Chandos CHSA 5182 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)
Perhaps the old concert formula – overture,
concerto, symphony – still prevails in
Germany? Anyway, these live ‘Edition
Dresden Staatskapelle’ recordings date back
to Sep ’02, and include Haitink’s fourth
Brahms No 1 – fine but I still prefer his
Boston CD – and the Beethoven Concerto,
which he recorded way back in the
mid-1970s with Szeryng. Zimmermann’s
cadenza is unfamiliar but his Beethoven is
remarkable for the perfect timing accord
with the orchestra. The Weber has both
charm and drama (see YouTube for Haitink
alternatives). Applause is included and you
hear one or two unintentional noises-off. CB
Whereas Rachmaninov’s popularity has
soared, his friend Medtner is now relatively
unheard ‘live’. Coming to London in 1936
he became impoverished, with German
royalties suspended, although recordings
were sponsored by a benefactor, the
Maharajah of Mysore – Testament has his
1947 recording of the Second Concerto.
This new recording is exemplary, and
Jurowski and the LPO give distinguished
accompaniments in both works. In the
Rachmaninov, Hamelin is technically
irreproachable, but with his calculated
manner and assertive passagework the
composer’s spirit is largely absent. CB
A disgrunted RSNO musician once said
that Järvi (Snr) was recording so much in
the ’80s the orchestra couldn’t remember
what they’d played yesterday. Nowadays it’s
Paavo who seems ubiquitous, Kristjan far
less prominent. Here he’s done 19 pieces
by the prolific Sousa of varying genres –
‘Washington Post’, ‘Liberty Bell’ (the Monty
Python intro music) and ‘Stars And Stripes
Forever’ inevitable inclusions. He takes
the seven marches quite quickly, but that
befits passive listening, and there are lyrical
gems like ‘Nymphalin’, or ‘Sandalphon’ to
offset the exhilaration of, say, ‘On Wings Of
Lightning’. Fun – excellent sound too. CB
Sound Quality: 80%
Sound Quality: 70%
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Tickets
On Sale
NOW!
Free the music
The Ultimate High-End
Hi-Fi Experience
21-22 October • Beaumont House Estate • Old Windsor, West Berkshire
THE
SHOWLive
www.hiÀnews.co.uk/show
OPINION
Paul Miller
Editor
Technician and writer on all things audio for some 30 years, Paul Miller took over
the editor’s chair in 2006. He invented the QC Suite, used across the audio industry
Suspect specs
The world was shocked to learn VW had developed engine management software that optimised
performance during emissions tests but Paul Miller thinks hi-fi’s brightest had the idea first!
ast year, the national and
specialist motoring press
was buzzing with the story
of Volkswagen’s engine
management software, conceived to
flatter emissions tests. But this is nothing
new. Adventurous audio engineers have
their automotive counterparts beaten by
a good quarter century...
What has become known as the
‘Dieselgate’ scandal rumbles on with
autoexpress.co.uk reporting that
‘although Volkswagen was the only
manufacturer discovered to have
used “defeat device” software to pass
emissions tests, retests by the DfT and
Germany’s KBA found other car-makers
using dubious means of passing the
laboratory-based (emissions) tests.’
L
AUDIO INNOVATION
Now, I have no wish to plunge myself
into a pile of do-do by implying for a
second that the antics of a few overambitious audio and video engineers
rank alongside the intentional pollution
of the very air we breathe, however this
is not the first time
that the blind pursuit
of specmanship has
encouraged a little...
flexible thinking.
Let’s travel back to
1990 and the heady
days of the bitstream
DAC revolution,
spear-headed by
Philips and Rotel [see Vintage Review,
HFN Jul ’17] and fuelled by the former’s
PDM converter technology. The Far
Eastern giants were not far behind with
their own take on a ‘low bit’ conversion
technology – upsampling the CD data to
many tens of MHz while truncating the
16-bit wordlength to a mere 3-5 bits.
Noise-shaping shuffled the excess
requantisation noise out of the
audioband while the reduced data bits
typically controlled a PWM (Pulse Width
Modulation) DAC. JVC had PEM (Pulse Edge
Modulation), Technics had MASH/PWM and
Sony called its system PLM
or Pulse Length Modulation.
They were all birds of a
feather and while they all
offered improved low-level
linearity and reduced lowlevel distortion, none of
them could quite match the
signal-to-noise performance
of the best 18- or 20-bit
DACs used in their players
up to 1989 or so.
Evidently this was a
cause for consternation in
Japan where an evolution in
technology, while witnessing
improvement in most
areas, couldn’t be seen as a
retrograde step in another.
AND ANOTHER THING...
The TV/projector industry still suffers from
a similar myopia – far more energy-efficient
and brighter display technologies have
been developed and yet specifications for
contrast never take a
dip. Frankly, some of
today’s figures couldn’t
be achieved if the white
level was measured on
one pixel powered by
five million volts of RGB
while the black level
was determined with
the panel switched off
and tossed down the deepest mineshaft in
Wales. But I digress...
Back to my story, and back in the lab I
recall being very excited to discover the
leaps in performance offered by Sony’s PLM
DAC (‘High Density Linear Converter’ in the
day). The flagship CDP-X77ES CD player had
superseded Sony’s multi-bit CDP-X7ESD and
not only bested its low-level resolution and
distortion (my jitter analysis software was
still a few years away) but also exceeded its
A-wtd S/N ratio with a thumping 121.7dB.
‘Specmanship
has encouraged
some... flexible
thinking’
ABOVE: The Sony CDP-X77ES CD player
reviewed by PM in HFN Aug ’90 and praised
for its record-breaking S/N ratio...
I was surprised but didn’t smell the
decaying rodent until it was too late.
My review of the CDP-X77ES ran in the
August issue of HFN in 1990, complete
with this figure for its S/N. Only I’d been
hoodwinked, for the DAC had a software
‘fix’ that responded to the stream of
digital zeros used in our noise tests by
switching itself off. With the idling noiseshapers defeated at chip-level the player
offered near absolute silence and a
super-wide S/N ratio. Of course, Sony was
not alone with this ‘digital mute’ ruse.
By applying an offset of one LSB (Least
Significant Bit) to the digital 0s I was able
to force the DAC chips ‘on’, revealing
the real S/N of 106dB. They fooled me
once only, a Sony engineer explaining
the mute idea to maintain ‘consistency
of measurement’. Others reviews in the
UK and Germany continued to quote
S/N figures for some low-bit players of
between 116-120dB for another year or
two, until the word spread!
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 103
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Because music matters.
OPINION
Barry
Fox
Paul Miller
Technology
journalist
Editor
Barry
Fox trained
in electronics
withaudio
the RAF
as aPaul
patent
agent,
Technician
and writer
on all things
for and
someworked
30 years,
Miller
tookbut
overhe
gave
that upchair
to enter
journalism.
He is one
world’s
technology
writers
the editor’s
in 2006.
He invented
the of
QCthe
Suite,
usedtop
across
the audio
industry
What’s in a name?
The V&A is hosting an exhibition of Pink Floyd memorabilia. Barry Fox picks his way past the prisms
and inflatable pigs to The Performance Zone where he unravels the tech behind ‘Ambeo’ sound
new event at the Victoria and
Albert Museum in London, The
Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their
Mortal Remains leads visitors
through a trail of colourful rooms packed
with memorabilia and looped videos
chronicling the gloom-rock group’s life
and recordings. The trail ends with a
Performance Zone, where exhibition
partner Sennheiser is playing a concert
recording of ‘Comfortably Numb’ in 360º
video with immersive ‘Ambeo’ sound.
The recording was made in London’s
Hyde Park in 2005, for Live 8, and
upmixed from conventional multitrack
tape to 17-channel Ambeo immersive
surround at Abbey Road.
A
SOME CONFUSION
Meanwhile, Sennheiser is launching a new
set of earbud/mics that use the wearer’s
head as a ‘dummy head’ to capture
and play binaural stereo sound. These
are also called Ambeo, which is more
than a little confusing because the two
Ambeos are completely different. And
don’t look to Sennheiser’s publicity for a
fact-based explanation.
Fortunately, I was able
to grab a little time
with company boss Dr
Andreas Sennheiser,
who explained.
Ambeo is an
umbrella trademark
covering two
completely different
technologies, one consumer and one
professional. What you will hear at the
V&A Performance Zone is professional
Ambeo, and it is based on the Ambisonics
surround sound system developed in the
UK in the 1970s.
For the Floyd Ambeo show, multitrack
tapes were mixed electronically into
Ambisonics B-Format. For live Ambeo
recordings, for instance for Virtual
Reality, Sennheiser’s new version of the
Soundfield mic is used. As per the original
RIGHT: Andreas
(left) and Daniel
Sennheiser at the
V&A preview of Their
Mortal Remains,
which opened on
the 13th of May.
As well as iconic
Floyd artwork (far
right), there’s the
Performance Zone
fitted with 18
Neumann KH 420
monitors and seven
KH 870 subwoofers.
See www.vam.ac.uk
Calrec mics, this gangs four capsules in a
tetrahedral array and outputs a standard
Ambisonics B-format signal. Sennheiser
says it has sold 2000 professional units
since the launch in November 2016.
At a V&A Floyd preview, Dr Andreas
Sennheiser encouraged guests to walk
around the room and hear how the
immersive soundfield changes subtly with
position, ‘with no sweet spot’. This, he
said, ‘gives an effect
more like listening
to a live event than
a recording. It’s like
being there, if you go
a little bit to one side
you hear more drums,
a little to the other
side and you will hear
more of the guitar’.
If you go to the V&A exhibition you will
hear the sound coming mainly from up
the walls, which matches the high screen
positioning. Thanks to both Ambisonics
and psychoacoustics, what the eyes see
pulls the sound.
The consumer Ambeo headset is not
Ambisonics-based. It uses the same basic
binaural dummy head techniques that
Sennheiser was successfully promoting in
the 1970s with headphone demos, and
which Hugo Zuccarelli used in the 1980s
‘What you will
hear at the V&A
event is based on
1970s Ambisonics’
with an early Sony PCM digital tape
recorder to improve phase coherence.
The Ambeo headset takes advantage
of Apple’s recent move to put iPhone
DACs and amplifiers into headsets, rather
than mobiles, with digital connection by
Apple’s new Lightning connector. The first
Ambeo headsets, due mid this year, will
have only Lightning connectors. There are
no adapters available that enable Ambeo
use with devices such as Android mobiles,
which have a USB connector, or with
devices that have only a 3.5mm jack.
A MATTER OF TIME
‘If we used an analogue 3.5mm jack
the only way to get the Ambeo effect
would be to do it in post-production, and
pre-process the audio,’ Dr Sennheiser
told me. ‘To get Ambeo processing on
the fly, the connector must be digital.
We have started with Lightning but will
later provide a model with a digital USB
connector, probably USB-C. We can also
do the same with a wireless version,
which uses Bluetooth. It’s just a matter of
time and when we get to it.’
Only one puzzle remains. Couldn’t
Sennheiser do a bit more to pay tribute
to the original inventors of Ambisonics
technology? I had to ask Dr S the direct
question, ‘is it Ambisonics?’.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 105
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OPINION
Barry Willis
Journalist for top American audio-video publications
While his main interest is high-end audio, Barry Willis also writes about the culinary
industry, visual art and theatre for a huge variety of US newspapers and magazines
Ritual magic
Digital delivery is now so good there’s no point in discussing the merits of analogue when it comes
to sound quality. So why the enduring love affair with vinyl? Barry Willis reckons he has the answer
magine yourself out for a romantic
dinner with a fetching companion.
The two of you peruse a beautifully
composed wine list, slowly reading
the descriptions by candlelight. You settle
on two or three contenders and discuss
them with the waiter, whose erudition
adds layers of potential to your decision.
He brings your selection and offers
you the sealed bottle for your approval.
With dramatic delicacy he removes the
foil wrapper and cork, which you examine
while he pours a sample. You swirl it
around, hold it up to the light, give it
a sniff, then a taste, and find it to your
liking. With a flourish he fills your glasses
and graciously vanishes, while the two of
you toast the goodness of life.
I
ON-SCREEN ICONS
Consider a couple of simple changes
to this portentous ritual. Instead of a
calligraphic wine list with evocative
descriptions of each vintage, you have
a glowing iPad with pictures of bottles
and make your selection not through
discussion with an expert, but by
touching an on-screen icon. When your
waiter arrives – for discussion’s sake, let’s
assume human delivery – the bottle’s
foil-and-cork have been
replaced by a screwtop that he tears off
before dumping the
liquid into your glasses.
You’ve got the same
wine with ostensibly the
same taste and effects,
but a vastly different
experience. The
anticipation that magnifies the ritual’s
meaning and implications has been
usurped by instant gratification.
It is this sort of difference that is
actually at the heart of the enduring
attachment to vinyl records. Digital
delivery has gotten so good that there is
no further point in discussing analogue
versus digital in terms of sound quality
RIGHT: Vinyl,
and wine from a
traditionally corked
bottle... do the good
things in life become
more desirable the
more difficult it is to
access them? It’s all
down to the ritual
involved, says the
author
or technical specifications. Supposed
attributes such as vinyl’s ‘organic warmth’
are merely intellectual smokescreens for
the format’s real appeal: ritual magic.
For decades, music fans waited
eagerly for new releases, sometimes
queuing up for hours at their favourite
record shops in hopes of getting an early
pressing. The anticipation of playing one
was enormous, a thrill that sometimes
continued with each play. Mirroring
the wine drinking process, a treasured
record was pulled
from a special sleeve,
carefully cleaned, and
then lovingly placed
on the turntable.
Settling the needle
into the lead-in
groove – the ‘needle
drop’ – was perhaps
the most exciting
part of the entire affair. I have actually
heard audiophiles say that the rush of
surface noise before the music begins is
the best part of playing vinyl – like in a
story I once read by a reformed New York
City narcotics addict, who always went
through the Holland Tunnel to meet his
supplier in Jersey City. He did this so often
and for so many years that he began to
‘When one ritual
vanishes we
create another to
take its place’
get high simply by entering the tunnel, so
closely related was it to the reward that
lay at the other end.
The use of screw-tops with quality
wines has long been a controversial
subject in the wine industry. It is
unquestionably a better way of sealing
a bottle, but was always associated with
low-grade products whose consumers
sought instant gratification, not an
elevated experience. Among technical
discussions of screw-top versus foil-andcork was the implied question: what
happens to the ritual?
NO SUBSTITUTES
The answer, of course, is that there
are no adequate substitutes for deeply
meaningful rituals. When one vanishes,
we create another to take its place.
What the wine industry needs is a more
elaborate screw-top, one that like the foiland-cork requires three steps to remove.
What we bring to the party and
what the party brings to us are mutually
dependent. The music industry should
understand that in an age where
everything is available instantly with only
a couple of mouse clicks, making access
more difficult only enhances desirability,
meaning, and fulfilment.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 107
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OPINION
Jim Lesurf
Science Journalist
Jim Lesurf has spent a lifetime in audio, both as an engineer at UK hi-fi company
Armstrong and reader in Physics and Electronics at St Andrew’s University
The best Proms ever?
The BBC has announced that this year’s Proms will be streamed in ‘High FLAC fidelity’. Jim Lesurf
is already on the case, capturing the corporation’s trial streams and comparing them with AAC
or quite some time, the BBC
has continued to develop and
improve the sound quality of its
radio Internet streams, with
Radio 3 tending to be the first beneficiary.
Early streams used low bitrates and
relatively poor codecs, which left much
to be desired when it came to optimising
audio quality. But in recent years the BBC
iPlayer has been able to offer 320kb/s AAC
for all its radio streams, which delivers
good results yet is still a ‘lossy’ format.
Around the time you read this,
however, it should have become possible
to listen to this year’s BBC Prom concerts
via a lossless FLAC stream. The first sign
that this would happen was a FLAC ‘trial’
that the BBC began running during April.
Having been alerted to this, I managed to
capture some Radio 3 broadcasts using
both the FLAC and the current standard
320kb/s AAC streams.
F
MEASURABLE DIFFERENCE
Comparisons between the two showed a
modest, but measurable, difference with
the FLAC version sounding excellent. The
FLAC stream is 48kHz/16-bit so represents
the most accurate and faithful version
of BBC radio you’re
likely to hear – unless,
that is, you work for
the BBC. Internally
the corporation uses
48kHz/24-bit, so those
least significant bits
below the 16th are
being removed. But as
with the bulk of high-res
commercial files, they’re usually filled
almost to the brim with noise.
The FLAC stream appears to run at
about 450kb/s, which is only around 40%
higher than the established 320kb/s of
AAC. Of course, the nature of lossless
streams is such that the rate will vary
with the complexity of the content. But
provided you have a connection that is
able to deliver 320kb/s AAC reliably it
RIGHT: The Proms
will run from Friday
the 14th of July
to Saturday the
9th of September
this year and for
the very first time
will be streamed
in FLAC. Details of
performances can
be found on the
BBC Proms website
at www.bbc.co.uk/
proms
seems likely that you should be able to
enjoy the FLAC stream.
As I write this the BBC is committed to
FLAC for the Proms only, and not beyond.
But I can’t help feeling that Auntie, having
dipped her toes into the water, will now
find listeners encouraging her to take the
plunge and make the move from AAC to
FLAC. Indeed, even during the April trial,
a petition was started online to urge the
BBC to begin a FLAC stream for Radio 6!
And in the past, each
new improvement
usually begins with
a limited trial or two
before becoming
established as a Radio
3 live stream. This
then spreads to the
corporation’s other
stations and its ‘on
demand’ users. So provided the BBC
receives enough positive feedback and
encouragement, this could – and I hope
will – eventually lead to all the BBC radio
channels being provided in FLAC format.
The snag at present is the software
and hardware you need. I was able to
capture and listen to the trial streams
because the developers of the FFmpeg
AV utility, which is a free cross-platform
‘FLAC is the most
faithful version of
BBC radio you’re
likely to hear’
solution to record, convert and stream
audio, quickly implemented some
changes to the software that allowed
it to fetch the trial stream (see https://
ffmpeg.org). Unfortunately, this involved
my having to fetch the source files for the
correct version of FFmpeg, retrieve some
specific software development/library files
and a software patch then configure and
build a copy of the required executable!
Not a process most listeners could be
expected to wade through happily.
EYE ON THE WEB
Better news is that at least one current
version of the Firefox browser could be
made to fetch and play the stream. Some
of the standards for encapsulating FLAC
had to be extended by Mozilla, which
builds Firefox, in order to achieve this, so
keep an eye on the web to see what may
be required in terms of a browser update
or new software (eg, the BBC R&D page
at www.bbc.co.uk/rd/blog/2017-04radio-3-high-quality-flac-dash).
And if you are using a commercial
closed-source ‘box of tricks’ to listen
to the BBC streams, check with the
manufacturer to see if it has implemented
any changes that are required. The prize
is worth the effort.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 109
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OPINION
Steve Harris
Contributing Editor
Steve Harris edited Hi-Fi News between 1986 and 2005. He loves jazz, blues music,
vinyl and vintage hi-fi and anything that makes good music come to life
Unlikely vinyl
Direct cuts from The Berlin Philharmonic, a promised binaural recording made straight to disc and
a collection of jazz cinema classics on 180g vinyl... Steve Harris looks at records with a tale to tell
imes change. If it was dance
music and the 12in single that
kept vinyl pressing alive through
the heyday of CD, today things
have reached the point where, for DJs,
‘vinyl only’ releases are where it’s at.
Then again, direct-to-disc recording
was once strictly the province of small
companies on an outer fringe of the
record industry. But today, major studios
happily offer direct-cut recording as part
of their range of services. Of course there
are vinyl-only releases for LP listeners. One
recent example marks a new departure
for Jazzwise columnist Selwyn Harris (no
relation!) and his Jazz On Film Records
label. But there is a story to this.
T
ABOVE: The BPO’s Digital Concert Hall service can be found at www.digitalconcerthall.com
while Jazz In Italian Cinema on 180g vinyl (right) costs £15 from www.jazzonfilmrecords.com
SHOCK WAVES
Back in 2013, there appeared a 5CD
box set from Jazz On Film Records called
French New Wave, including the Miles
Davis Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud music
and other jazzy soundtracks recorded
between 1957 and 1962. But then there
quickly came a 6CD box, carrying the
same cover picture and titled New Wave,
on the Moochin About label. It seems that
two partners who’d previously worked
together had split, and
ended up releasing two
competing products.
Since then, Jason Lee
Lazell of Moochin About
has continued to offer
a series of impressive
soundtrack CD box sets
while Harris’s Jazz On
Film Records has moved
into vinyl with a nicely-produced 180g LP,
Jazz In Italian Cinema.
Here you get just 11 tracks, including
one or two with Chet Baker solos and
one from John Lewis’s score for the 1962
movie Milanese Story, in which Lewis
leads a group that includes Bobby Jasper
on flute and sax, and French guitarist
René Thomas. And while the Moochin
About CD box sets are amazing value, the
vinyl does feel appropriately retro here.
When it comes to new recordings, direct
cutting is the analogue purist’s approach.
But it was still astonishing to see the
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra indulge in a
major direct-to-disc recording project.
Early in 2014, the Berlin Philharmonic
launched its own record label, severing
an age-old relationship with Deutsche
Grammophon. In the September of that
year, with conductor
Sir Simon Rattle, it
recorded the four
Brahms symphonies
on vinyl, all-analogue
and all direct-cut.
The BPO had
already taken a huge
step into marketing its
own music with the
launch of its Digital Concert Hall service
in 2008. As a subscriber you can stream
and view recorded concerts, with the
option to buy them on Blu-ray disc with
hi-res sound.
You can no longer buy the 6LP BPO
Brahms direct-cut set, which presumably
sold out quickly, despite its 500 euro
price tag. But I’ve learned that the BPO
has now gone on to offer its existing
‘The label is to
make “the world’s
first binaural
direct cut”’
Rattle Beethoven cycle on vinyl, though
those recordings are not direct-cut.
The BPO direct cuts were made by the
engineers of Emil Berliner Studios, which
began its current life, coincidentally, in
the same year that the BPO launched
its Digital Concert Hall. In 2008, a
management buyout transformed DGG’s
in-house recording department into a
fully independent operation, which then
moved into a new facility in Berlin.
PRETTY SPECIAL
Earlier EBS direct-to-disc efforts include
a 2011 organ/drums duo session with
bandleader Lutz Krajenski at the keys, and
a recording with singer Lisa Bassenge and
her band. But not surprisingly, nothing
else has been attempted on the scale of
the BPO Brahms cycle.
However, here in the UK, both Abbey
Road and AIR Studios do have studios
suitable for orchestral recordings, plus the
ability to offer direct-cut vinyl mastering.
The audiophile label Chasing The Dragon
is about to go into AIR Studios to make
‘the world’s first binaural direct cut’ with
The Locrian Ensemble. And a direct-cut
disc of Binaural Baroque will surely be
something pretty special.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 111
Send in your views to:
Sound Off, Hi-Fi News, AVTech Media Ltd,
Suite 25, Eden House, Enterprise Way, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 6HF
or email your views to: [email protected]finews.com –
please use ‘Sound Off’ in your subject field
YOUR VIEWS
Double Diamond
THE BENEFITS OF BI-WIRING MY B&W LOUDSPEAKERS
Correspondents express their own opinions, not those of Hi-Fi News. We reserve the right to edit letters for publication.
Correspondents using e-mail are asked to give their full postal address (which won’t be published). Letters seeking advice
will be answered in print on our Sound Off pages, but due to time constraints we regret we’re unable to answer questions on
buying items of hi-fi or any other hi-fi queries by telephone, post or via e-mail.
NOTES ON NIMBUS
CONCERTS AND BARGAIN CLASSICAL BUYS
In 2005 I moved to an area about
20 miles from Wyastone and found
a leaflet in a local pub advertising
summer concerts. For the next
few years my wife and I attended
some wonderful events on summer
weekends in ‘Maxwell’s legacy’
concert hall, which Barry Fox wrote
about in his July Investigation
feature into Nimbus Records. The
hall’s acoustics were very good
and the air conditioning silent.
Then the concerts stopped and I
never found out why.
After buying my first CD player
in June 1986 when the cost of a
Philips CD104 dropped to £200
[HFN Apr ’14], I discovered how
much I preferred the ‘Nimbus
sound’ to that of the ‘multiple mono
tracks mixed to stereo’ recordings
offered by the major recording
companies, and have some
treasured CDs purchased in the
decade that followed.
On a Nimbus recording you
were usually able to form a good
impression of the ambience of the
venue rather than simply hear the
performers’ breathing problems,
which spoil too many recordings.
Nimbus’s Indian classical music
CDs show exactly what I mean.
Fellow readers may be
interested to know that Nimbus
appear to have licensed
recordings to budget reissue
labels. For example, some of the
Paul Miller replies: John, we all know the Interweb is
home to deniers and advocates of every stripe, so if
bi-wiring works for your Anthem/B&W set-up (thank you,
Lenz’s Law) then listen, enjoy and ignore the clamour.
ABOVE: Licensed from Nimbus – Haydn
‘Paris’ Symphonies on the Regis label
Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra
recordings are now on the Regis
label, and they also appear to be
part of Brilliant Classics’ ‘Haydn
Edition’ 150CD box set.
Chester Willey, via email
Barry Fox replies: The hall was used
for music events and festivals such as
the Summer Series between 2009 and
2011 put on by Nimbus with renowned
artists including Grigory Sokolov. But
the location – several miles outside
Monmouth, which itself is not a large
city – became a lot less viable after
the last financial crash, and the Arts
Council and local authorities stopped
supporting the charity. The maximum
revenue from 500 seats is around
£8500. So although some public music
events are still staged there, the hall is
now mainly used by record companies
as an out of town recording studio.
ABOVE: Reader Chester’s first CD player was Philips’ CD104, first released in 1984
112 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
I have to shout this from the roof-tops. I bi-wired
my B&W 802 Diamond speakers, which are
driven by an Anthem Statement P2 amp, with
Kimber Kable 12VS cable (it was single 12VS
before) and it makes a huge difference. I wasn’t
getting anywhere close to the speakers’ full
capability before doing this. When I read the
bi-wire deniers on the Internet I am surprised.
John Ellnet, via email
ABOVE: Anthem’s Statement P2 amplifier [HFN Nov ’11]
WhitWorld
OUR HI-FI WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF WHITWORTH
JITTE RBUG
USB Filter
YOUR VIEWS
Moving-magnet or coil?
READER SEEKS MODERN CARTRIDGE TO MATCH VINTAGE DECK AND TONEARM
I recently scratched a long-held
itch to own a vintage turntable and
took delivery of a Kenwood KP-1100
imported from Japan (I believe the
equivalent model in the West was the
KD-990). From what I’ve been able to
ascertain, it has a pretty nice tonearm
that deserves something of slightly
higher calibre than the Shure M44G
with which the deck was supplied.
Until recently, I’d only ever
considered MM cartridges in the
belief that MC models were super
expensive, had non-replaceable styli
and required expensive separate
phono stages to do them justice
(and I’m not inclined to consider the
expense of additional kit right now!).
However, from looking around,
it appears that MC cartridges aren’t
quite as pricey as I’d previously
thought and it has been suggested
that the in-built MC phono stage in
my Yamaha A-S1100 integrated amp
may do a decent job with them.
System-wise, in addition to the
aforementioned integrated amplifier
I am currently running a set of XTZ
99.25 standmount speakers. The room
has wooden floors (with a rug and
soft furniture) so I’d be looking to
avoid anything that leans toward the
bright side. Given my budget of £300£400, what would you consider to be
a good match for my (medium mass?)
tonearm and built-in phono stage? Do
I stick with magnets or coils?
Daniel Portillo, via email
Adam Smith replies: As you say, Daniel,
the Kenwood KP-1100 was essentially
identical to the KD-990 and is a very high
ABOVE: Audio-Technica’s MC AT33EV
Can a £39 insect make all
your CD files sound better than
Hi-Res?
ABOVE: Top MM choice – Goldring’s 2500
quality turntable. It is quartz-locked,
direct-drive and is based around a diecast
skeletal structure on which the cabinet
is effectively ‘hung’. The tonearm looks
fairly unremarkable but is actually very
well engineered and more than capable
of partnering a high-quality cartridge. It
definitely deserves something better than
a Shure M44G DJ model!
Regarding cartridges, while I would
say that MCs are generally better than
MMs, moving-magnet technology has
come on a long way in recent years and
there are some very good designs out
there. Equally, your Yamaha amplifier’s
MC phono stage is perfectly respectable,
though its lack of loading adjustment
means it needs to be partnered carefully.
If you really fancy going MC, then I
would head in the direction of the £400
Audio-Technica AT33EV [HFN Jul ’12] as
it will match the KP-1100’s arm well and
the A-S1100’s 50ohm loading will suit it.
However, this can be quite an upfrontsounding cartridge and so may not suit
your system. That being the case, I’d be
inclined to leave the MC route for now
until you can afford something like an
Ortofon Cadenza Red [HFN Jul ’12] and a
suitable MC head amp to do it justice.
This leaves you with a few good
moving-magnet choices. My go-to at
this price level is always the Ortofon 2M
Black [HFN Mar ’11] if you can stretch
to £495, as this is a smooth but detailed
and dynamic performer. However, if you
would prefer something a little warmersounding but just as capable, consider
the Goldring 2500 [HFN Mar ’11] at
£475, the £320 Goldring 1042 and the
£340 Nagaoka MP-200. Given your sonic
tastes, my pick would be the Goldring
2500, but the Nagaoka is the smoothest of
the bunch, so may well suit you best!
Yes and no: Using the same
equipment and a quality DAC, a 24/96
file (for example) will always sound
better than a CD 16/44.1 file … but,
even a single JitterBug will often
allow a CD file to be more musical and
more emotionally stimulating than
a Hi-Res file without the benefit of a
JitterBug.
Noise is the problem. Real noise—
the kind you can’t hear directly. Most
often, the word “noise” is used to
describe tape hiss or a scratch on a
record, but these sounds aren’t noise;
they are properly reproduced sounds
that we wish weren’t there.
Problem noise is essentially random,
resonant or parasitic energy, which
has no meaning. It can’t be turned
into discrete sounds, but it does
compromise signal integrity and the
performance of everything it touches.
JitterBug’s dual-function lineconditioning circuitry greatly reduces
the noise and ringing that plague both
the data and power lines of USB ports,
whether on a computer, streamer,
home stereo or car audio front-panel
USB input.
A single JitterBug is used in between
devices (i.e., in series) as shown
below. For an additional “wow”
experience, try a second JitterBug
into another USB port on the same
device (such as a computer). Whether
the second port is vacant, or is
feeding a printer or charging a phone,
JitterBug’s noise-reduction ability is
likely to surprise you. No, the printer
won’t be affected—only the audio!
While a JitterBug helps MP3s sound a
lot more like music, high-sample-rate
files have the most noise vulnerability.
Try a JitterBug or two on all your
equipment, but never more than two
per USB bus. There is such a thing as
too much of a good thing.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 113
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New DragonFlys!
YOUR VIEWS
Youth and affordable hi-fi
£89 Black & £169 Red
Powerful, Immersive
Sound fromComputers
and Mobile Devices!
LONG-TIME READER WONDERS IF OUR HOBBY IS NOW SOLELY A REFUGE FOR OLDER WHITE MEN
I am a long in the tooth yet still avid
reader of your estimable magazine.
Flicking through the pages I dream
of the kit I will never be able to afford
yet HFN has helped me buy the
Rega-based equipment that I can. I
also have one of the first Yarland tube
amps – the FV-34B – which I bought
following Ken Kessler’s excellent
review [HFN Jan ’11]. I recently had
it serviced and the comment was
‘terrible build, but excellent sound’.
I love it. Thanks Ken.
Like others of my generation
I have returned to vinyl but so have
my sons, both of whom are in their
30s. My granddaughter, aged ten,
loves her little Crossley record player
with Abba’s Greatest Hits!
My only criticism of your magazine
is that it appears increasingly to be
a refuge for older white men (like
myself) both as contributors and as
readers. Is it really true that we are
the only demographic still buying
and enjoying hi-fi? On occasion your
contributors wax lyrical about their
early forays into hi-fi, but there must
be young people today who enjoy
hi-fi and could share with us the what
and the why? Some dissenting or
different points of view might enrich
what is already a great read.
David Walker, via email
Ken Kessler replies: High-end audio is,
indeed, almost solely the preserve of ‘old
white men’. The ‘white’ I cannot explain
nor agree with, as race has never been a
factor (and, for that matter, the remaining
markets with any real future for growth are
in Asia), but age certainly is.
It has a bit to do with older people
having more disposable income, but it
has more to do with the way listening
habits have changed inexorably due to
a ‘perfect storm’ of influences.
They include: 1) a move away from
listening to music intently rather than
while multi-tasking; this, in turn, has
diminished the importance of sound
quality; 2) congested living conditions,
especially in cities, and the need to fit
smaller systems into smaller apartments
and 3) the rise of other commodities
chasing after disposable income, eg,
smartphones, gaming, etc, such that
those reaching the age when ‘we’ first got
interested in hi-fi (12 to 16-years old) have
a far greater choice of interests to pursue.
Then there’s the demise of bricksand-mortar retailers, which are far more
necessary for the disseminating of
serious hi-fi than with closed purchases
like phones. I have always hoped that,
along with the vinyl revolution, affordable
and cool-looking hardware such as the
Yarland amp would pique the interest of
the under-50s. Fingers crossed, eh?
Four years ago, AudioQuest shook the
hi-fi world with our first DragonFly
DAC–Preamp–Headphone Amp—the
rare audio product that brought more
compelling sound to all music lovers,
playing high-res files to MP3s on perfectionist systems and modest laptops.
Now, the new DragonFly Black and
DragonFly Red exceed their predecessor in every way, delivering more
beautiful music, boasting software
upgradability, and providing compatibility with Android and Apple iOS
mobile devices.
While Black offers more clarity, depth
and category-defining value than ever
before, the take-no-prisoners Red provides even more finesse, resolution,
torque and more than enough power to drive even the most demanding
headphones.
The word is out: DigitalAudioReview.
net’s John Darko calls DragonFly Red
and Black “the finest examples of everyman hifi to ever grace these pages.
Their value quotients explode the dial.”
Let the joyful experience begin!
ABOVE: The Yarland FV-34B integrated amp with its quartet of matched EL34 output tubes
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 115
YOUR VIEWS
Tales of Yamaha’s NS-1000M
INSIGHTS INTO THE MARKETING AND MODIFICATION OF CLASSIC JAPANESE SPEAKER
I read the review of the Yamaha NS-5000
loudspeakers [HFN Jun ’17] with great
interest as I owned one of the first pairs
of the company’s NS-1000Ms to come
into the country! Back in the early ’80s
I worked part time for a hi-fi retailer in
London’s Regent St. It was explained to
me by a Yamaha rep that the Ms were
specifically aimed at the professional
market, recording studios and elite
nightspots, etc. The ‘standard’ NS-1000
model was the domestic version.
Originally, Yamaha didn’t export
either version to the UK as it felt that the
shipping costs would mean that neither
model could compete in a market where
the likes of KEF, Rogers, Quad, B&W,
Wharfedale and Tannoy ruled supreme.
However, there was a grey import
market for the NS-1000M and these were
snapped up as soon as they landed.
Once Yamaha realised it had a winner
on its hands, it closed down the grey
market and started importing both the
NS-1000M and NS-1000.
I was told that because they were
expected to be treated more roughly
in pro environments, the NS-1000M’s
cabinet construction was more solid
than that of the ’1000. I also believe
the crossovers were different. It
was expected that the Ms would be
hammered in clubs and studios allowing
the tight, fast bass to be maximised.
However, as the ’1000s would be used
in domestic environments the HF
and midrange outputs were trimmed,
allowing the speakers to be played
louder in the home and for the bass to
ABOVE: While evoki
evoking
iing
ng the NS
NS-1000’s
1000’s spirit,
spirit
Yamaha’s NS-5000 draws on 21st century tech
116 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
be better heard. In un-modded form they
sounded softer than the Ms and very
similar to the top-of-the-range Japanese
speakers of the day from, say, Sony.
Perversely, we Brits fell in love
with the Ms and very few ’1000s were
sold in the UK. As soon as the Ms
took off, the hi-fi media pundits began
coming up with ways to ‘improve’
them, replacing the Japanese standard
push-clip terminals, fitting bi-wireable
sockets, by-passing the level controls
and even completely re-wiring the
internals (I believe van den Hul was
the replacement cable of choice in the
day!). Naturally, not only did the black
covers have to be removed but also
the metal grilles covering the beryllium
tweeter and midrange drivers.
I heard a number of these ‘modded’
Ms and was lucky enough to compare
one or two of them with my own,
unmodified pair. Sure, they sounded
different, but I wouldn’t say they were
any better for the huge amounts of
money some people spent on them.
Chris Moxham, via email
David Price replies: The NS-1000M is one
of the most interesting classic loudspeakers
of its era, and remains important today for
the engineering innovation it brought. When
the domestic version – the NS-1000 – was
launched in the mid ’70s, there was nothing
else like it. The critical point was the use
of beryllium in its treble and midband
drivers; these were extremely light and stiff,
promising ultra-fast transients and very low
distortion. For example, the 30mm JA-0513
beryllium dome tweeter weighed just 0.03g
and was 0.03mm thick, compared to a typical
soft dome tweeter of the day which was 0.1g
and 0.3mm (source: Yamaha). The fact that
both treble and mid drivers were domes
implied improved phase-coherence too,
especially with the sophisticated crossover.
My preference is for the NS-1000M
however, which I have used continuously
since hearing a pair in a hi-fi shop in Tokyo’s
Shibuya district, in the early ’90s. As you
say, the M was the ‘ruggedised’ pro version
of the NS-1000, and sports an infinite baffle
cabinet. I am of the opinion that this form of
cabinet loading gives faster, more accurate
bass – even if it does have other issues that
reflex-loading does not. I love the sheer
speed of the M version, which sounds more
‘all-of-a-piece’ than the cooking NS-1000. The
ABOVE: The Yamaha NS-1000M (right) was
released in 1974. ‘NS’ stands for Natural Sound
M has massive bass slam with great speed,
and when used with the right ancillaries can
virtually disappear.
There are downsides to this speaker, one
of which is that it’s extremely hard to drive
well. The deceptive thing is that it sounds
‘good’ even with a £300 Marantz budget
integrated. Yet there’s a chasm between
‘good’ and great. It needs a combination of
serious power and consummate smoothness
and with transistor amps it’s so often a
choice of one or the other.
I have heard all sorts of modified Ms
over the years, but the fact is that the basic
design and build quality was excellent,
and tampering generally changes things
rather than improving them. Marantz’s Ken
Ishiwata, also a fan, told me that he thinks
the only real improvement is to radically
rework the crossover, tri-wire it and go active.
Messing around with speaker terminals is
mere window dressing.
In my experience, a sturdy pair of Linn
Isobarik-type frame stands, 20cm from the
floor, works wonders. I designed my own
and had them fabricated and powder coated.
Being 375x675x326mm (NS-1000M) rather
than 395x710x369mm (NS-1000), the Monitor
version is easier to fit into compact British
living rooms, and the sealed cabinet makes
life easier, too. The speaker makes great
demands on the rear boundary wall, so the
thicker and sturdier this is, the better it will
sound. In truth then, system matching and
placement are what really count.
In my view, the new NS-5000 is an
excellent speaker and innovative in a
different way to the NS-1000. While its styling
suggests that it’s the spiritual replacement to
the 1000, it’s actually a very different beast.
The NS-1000M sounds faster and more
animated, with wonderful gusto and life –
whereas the NS-5000 is super smooth, svelte
and sophisticated. The oldie is more punk
rock, the newbie is more dinner jazz!
Frustrations with DAB
READER FINDS COVERAGE TO BE POOR, BUT COULD CAR AERIAL BE TO BLAME?
I have just read Barry Fox’s Opinion
piece in the April issue concerning
DAB. In the past couple of years I
have changed our two cars. One has
DAB radio (and FM) that often stops,
showing ‘No signal’. This is within a
couple of miles of the M25 and M40
motorways showing that the coverage
for DAB is still very poor.
The other car has a neat facility to
change to FM when the DAB signal
disappears. It does this frequently
(and you hear the same couple of
seconds of the programme being
listened to repeated as the radio
switches back to DAB).
Barry did not mention DAB+ in
his piece. My understanding is that
this would give better coverage
and improved quality. Is there any
intention to change to it nationally?
David North, via email
Barry Fox replies: DAB coverage is
improving all the time and if a radio is
continually failing to get signal on the
main network stations (eg, BBC Radio 2,
3 and 4) then I can’t help wondering if the
aerial is to blame. So the first thing to do
is check its connections.
Also bear in mind that if someone has
fitted a DAB radio to an ‘analogue’ car
then the existing aerial may have an FM
amplifier that blocks DAB frequencies.
One further tip is to try doing a full re-tune
station scan as per whatever the user
manual instructs.
DAB+ coding uses fewer bits so can
either deliver higher sound quality or
more programmes. But there can’t be a
full switch to DAB+ because many early
DAB radios cannot receive DAB+. It’s
the price the UK pays for being a pioneer
and starting DAB broadcasts before most
other countries.
My cable conundrum
CONNECTING A PROPOSED DISC PLAYER TO COMPONENTS 20FT APART
I am looking to buy a new universal
disc player and enjoyed your review
of the Oppo UDP-205 [HFN Jul
’17] being very impressed by its
performance and versatility.
My problem is that my listening
room is 20ft long and has my Linn/
Naim hi-fi system at one end and TV
at the other. Both are well-established
in their respective locations. Which
‘long’ cabling solution would be
possible? CD to preamp from the TV
end or Blu-ray to TV at the hi-fi end?
Is a 20ft cable too long for either?
Robert W Provan, via email
Paul Miller replies: You don’t mention
whether your TV is ready for a 4K/2160p
video feed (the HDMI 2.0b standard
stretches the data bandwidth to 18Gbps)
or whether 1080p ‘Full HD’ will be
the upper limit. Nevertheless, any
‘High Speed’ rated HDMI cable (not a
supermarket or e-Bay special) should
deliver visibly error-free results over a
20ft run. Contrary to belief, there is no
maximum cable length specified by the
HDMI licensing organisation [www.hdmi.
org/consumer/finding_right_cable.aspx].
The other route, running 20ft of
audiophile interconnect, will surely be
more costly especially if Oppo’s balanced
feed is employed, though I recognise this
is unlikely with Naim electronics. Better to
focus your spend on 1m of decent audio
cable where you are spoiled for choice.
EXTREME?
IT IS NOW!
ABOVE: Oppo’s UDP-205 universal player combines 4K video with class-leading DACs
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 117
VINTAGE HI-FI
Yamaha A-1 integrated amp
It wasn’t just that its looks broke step with the ’70s love for wood, silver and switches
that made this amp a game-changer, but its all-DC circuit. How does it sound today?
Review: Tim Jarman & Adam Smith Lab: Paul Miller
he A-1 amp was a quirky-looking
unit. First released in 1978, it
appeared to be out of place
in Yamaha’s line-up of Natural
Sound components, its sleek cosmetics
and sparse button count at odds with the
corporate look that not only Yamaha but
most of the large Japanese and Continental
manufacturers adhered to at the time.
Rated at 70W, the amplifier sat at
the centre of a range that encompassed
everything from low-power budget
cheapies right up to the monster prepower combos that were a Japanese staple
product in the late 1970s.
T
DIRECT LINE
Designed in an era before CD and other
digital sources, the A-1 was configured to
achieve the best possible sound quality
from vinyl by the use of its ‘Disc’ function.
Brought into play by one of the three
boldly illuminated coloured switches on
the amp’s fascia, ‘Disc’ bypassed all the
circuitry not essential for LP playback,
ensuring a direct signal path from the unit’s
phono inputs to its loudspeaker outputs.
The sections that were bypassed
included the source selector, stereo/mono
switch, tape loop and tone controls. The
output of the phono stage was routed
directly to the volume control, after which
ABOVE: Yamaha’s Natural Sound catalogue shows how radical the A-1 appeared compared with its
silver-fronted knob-strewn contemporaries. As the ’80s began, it was the A-1 look that would prevail
the signal made its way straight into the
fully DC-coupled power amplifier. Yamaha
claimed that in this configuration there
was only one capacitor in the signal path,
located at the output of the RIAA equaliser.
The truth was that this was only the case
if a moving-magnetic cartridge was used,
since switching to moving-coil mode
introduced two extra points of capacitor
coupling, with a further one present if the
‘pre out’ connections were used.
EXOTIC WORK
The phono stage itself was an exotic piece
of work for what was an on-board circuit
inside an integrated amplifier. For movingmagnet cartridges it employed a dual
FET device in its first stage, two transistor
junctions sharing the same encapsulation
offering the best matching and identical
tracking of performance with respect to
temperature. This arrangement reduces
drift to an absolute minimum and an
identical device was used in the input
stages of the A-1’s power amplifier.
For moving-coil cartridges the
necessary additional gain was provided
by an active stage preceding the main
moving-magnetic circuit. To reduce the
LEFT: Only the amplifier’s main functions and
direct phono selector fell immediately to hand.
All other controls, even the other input switches,
were hidden from sight behind a hinged panel
118 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
noise generated at this sensitive point as
much as possible, four paralleled pairs of
transistors were used in each channel.
The idea behind this was that the random
noise generated in each would be at least
partially cancelled out by the same effect
coming from the others. Only the wanted
signal from the moving-coil cartridge
would be consistent in all, meaning that it
could pass unaffected.
A similar technique (in integrated
circuit form) was used in
Yamaha’s range-topping
C-2 preamplifier.
The company’s
commitment to signal
path purity and DC
coupling meant that it
was not practical to
provide an external prepower amplifier link for the A-1. Instead,
the ‘pre out’ connections mentioned
previously were taken from the output of
the power amplifier and reduced in level
by a simple attenuator. This maintained
compatibility with Yamaha’s external
power amplifiers, for example the B-2, but
is not ideal from a technical point of view.
Bear this in mind if you are considering
using an A-1 for preamp duty.
With only three softly glowing square
pushbuttons and a large volume control,
the A-1 presents a simple face to the world.
There is of course more to it: the volume
control has two concentric sections to
enable the balance to be adjusted and
additional knobs and switches can be
found behind a drop-down panel at the
bottom. Here one finds the normal source
selector (phono, tuner,
auxiliary and a tape loop),
along with the MM/MC
switch for the turntable
inputs, a headphone
socket and the tone
controls. In all modes
the tone controls can be
bypassed, since pushing a
small button cuts them into the circuit. This
is a tone control ‘on’ function rather than
the usual ‘defeat’.
The moving-magnet phono input is
fitted with an extra pair of sockets, which
allow the user to set the cartridge loading.
With these left vacant the load is 100kohm
with a choice of either 68kohm or 47kohm
‘The epic guitar
work scythed its
way through my
loudspeakers’
ABOVE: With the front flap closed, simplicity
was the order of the day. Lamps illuminate the
three square buttons from behind while ‘Disc’
clears a straight signal path for a turntable
using a set of labelled plugs supplied with
the amplifier. The most common value
specified by MM cartridge manufacturers
is 47kohm but the simplicity of the
arrangement makes it easy to experiment,
the user instruction manual giving a simple
formula to generate any value between
100kohm and (theoretically) zero.
At the rear of the amplifier, all inputs
and outputs are standard RCA types except
for the loudspeaker outputs, which are
screw terminals. The unit is heavy, bulky
and requires unrestricted ventilation,
limiting one’s placement options. However,
it is elegant in a timeless way and looks
good on show, especially if one has
Yamaha’s excellent T-1 FM tuner as well.
ADAM LISTENS
With the Yamaha A-1 driving my PMC
twenty.24 loudspeakers and fed by a
Naim CD5XS CD player via the Aux input,
it gave an excellent account of itself. With
its forward-looking styling, one could be
fooled into expecting the sort of punchy,
but slightly hard and two-dimensional
sound exhibited by many amplifiers of
the 1980s. However, the A-1 sounded
somewhat smoother and more mellifluous.
That said, the high gain noted in the Lab
Report [see p123] does mean a modicum
of care is required when it comes to the
volume control. In short, things can get
loud quite quickly!
Detail retrieval was first class, the A-1
more than able to dig to the heart of a
recording and pull out the minutiae of
a mix, yet in a manner that was always
unforced and easy on the ear.
LEFT: Sophistication lies beneath the amp’s
simple surface but ample technical information
means that minor repairs are straightforward
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 119
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ANALOGUE DOMAIN
“Hear how close you can get to the heart of the music”
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIERS
Mark Levinson No. 383 ........... £3,450
B.M.C. Audio CS2 Integrated/
Power Amp ....................... £2,990
Audio Note Ongaku ...............£39,990
Analog Domain Audio .............£10,990
Accuphase E-550 Integrated Amplifier
...................................... £3,250
POWER AMPLIFIERS
YBA Passion 1000 Monoblocks
.......................................£4,990
Theta Digital- Intrepid 5 Channel
amplifier ............................£1,290
Plinius SA100mkIII/ M16 Pre-Amp
& M14 Phono Stage .............£4,200
Plinius SA100mkIII ..................£1,990
Pass Labs X350.5 .................. £5,990
Musical Fidelity 550K Supercharger
monoblock power amplifier
.......................................£1,590
MBL Model 9011 Mono-Block
Power Amp ...................... £18,700
Mark Levinson No. 33H Mono-blocks
...................................... £8,990
Mark Levinson Monaural Reference
Amplifier No 33 ................. £17,900
Mark Levinson 532 ................ £9,950
Luxman MQ88 Power Amplifier
.......................................£4,990
Jeff Rowland Model 2 Power
& Synergy IIi Pre ................. £3,990
Gryphon Antileon ................... £5,990
Chord Electronics 1200B ..........£1,490
Bel Canto e.One Reference1000
mkII Monoblocks ................ £2,490
B.M.C. Audio CS2 Integrated/
Power Amp ....................... £2,990
PRE AMPLIFIERS
Plinius SA100mkIII/ M16 Pre-Amp &
M14 Phono Stage .................£4,200
Plinius M16 Pre-Amp ...............£1,590
Naim Audio Supercap 2 ........... £2,250
Mark Levinson 380 Pre-Amplifier .£1,790
Krell KCT Pre Amp .................. £2,495
Krell Evolution 202 Pre-Amp ......£4,450
Klyne 6LEPre-Amplifier .............£1,290
Jeff Rowland Model 2 Power
& Synergy IIi Pre ................. £3,990
Gryphon Sonata Allegro ........... £5,490
Cary Audio SPL 98L ................ £2,295
B.M.C. Audio DAC1PreHR ........ £2,250
Audio Research Reference 5se .. £6,490
Audio Research LS2 .................. £890
PRE & POWER COMBINATIONS
Plinius SA100mkIII/ M16 Pre-Amp
& M14 Phono Stage ..............£4,200
Jeff Rowland Model 2 Power
& Synergy IIi Pre ................. £3,990
Exposure Classic Series XXIII +
XXVIII ...............................£1,890
DNM PA-3S & 3D-Six (inc DNM
HFTN Interconnect and stand) .. £7,500
ANALOGUEVINYL REPLAY PHONO STAGE
Plinius SA100mkIII/ M16 Pre-Amp
& M14 Phono Stage .............£4,200
Plinius M14 Phono Stage ..........£1,290
Naim Audio StageLine N ............. £210
McCormack Audio Micro Phono Drive
........................................ £390
LFD MC1 phono ....................... £490
B.M.C. Audio MCCI Phono Stage .£1,790
TURNTABLES & ARMS
VPI TNT 2.5/ Tri-Planar MKIV ......£3,750
Tri-Planar MKVI Tonearm ...........£1,990
Thales Simplicity II ..................£4,990
Stillpoints LPI Record Isolator ....... £290
SMESeries V Tone-Arm ............ £2,990
SME Series V Gold Plated Tonearm
..................................... £3,490
Nottingham Analogue Space Deck &
Ace Space Arm ...................£1,290
Graham Engineering Phantom B44
..................................... £2,490
CARTRIDGES, CABLESSPEAKER & INTERCONNECTS
Van den Hul The Crimson mc
Cartridge ........................... £2,990
Lyra Argo i (MC Cartridge) ........... £490
Wirew orld Platinum Eclipse 1m
XLR .................................£1,290
Transparent Music Link Super MM2
XLR ................................... £790
Transparent Audio Reference MM2
8ft Speaker Cable ............... £3,500
Tow nshend Audio Fractal 1m RCA
Interconnect ......................... £490
TelluriumQ Ultra Black 2x2m
Spade/Spade ........................ £750
Tara Labs The One Balanced 1m
XLR + FGS ........................... £990
Synergistic Research Atmosphere
UEF Level 4 ....................... £3,050
Naim Audio Hi-Line ................... £425
MIT MH 750 Plus Series 2 .......... £470
MIT Cables Matrix HD23 1m RCA
Interconnect ......................... £790
MIT Cables Matrix HD12, 1m RCA
Interconnect ......................... £390
Kubala Sosna Anticipation 1m RCA
Interconnect ......................... £190
Entreq Apollo XLR 2012 ........... £2,990
CD/SACD PLAYERS & DACS,
STREAMERS/DIGITAL STORAGE
Proceed PDT3 CD Transport ......... £800
Proceed (By Madrigal) PDP2 ........ £350
Naim CDX2 ...........................£1,490
Naim Audio CD S3 ................. £2,490
Melco N1Z H ........................ £2,450
Melco N1A .............................. £990
Macintosh MCD1100 .............. £5,990
Krell Evolution 525a ................£4,990
Krell Connect Digital Streamer ....£1,490
Esoteric K-05 CD/SACD ........... £3,490
DCS Puccini CD/SACD Player and
U-Clock ............................ £6,490
DCS Puccini CD/SACD Player .....£4,990
DCS Paganini CD/SACD Transport
..................................... £5,490
B.M.C. Audio DAC1PreHR ........ £2,250
B.M.C. Audio BDCD1.1 CD Player
...................................... £2,250
Ayon Audio S3 ...................... £2,690
Aesthetix Romulus CD ..............£2,750
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Supertweeters ...................... £790
Tannoy Kingdom Royal ...........£38,990
Sonus Faber Amati Anniversario GR
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Revel Ultima Studio 2 .............. £8,500
Revel Ultima Salon 2 ............... £9,500
REL S2 Sub-Bass ...................... £650
NHT 3.3 Reference ................. £2,490
Naim Ovator S-600 (Passive) .... £3,490
Martin Logan Summit .............. £3,990
Martin Logan Fresco (x2) ............ £690
Isophon (Gauder Akustik) Corvara £1,390
Infinity Kappa 9 ......................£1,490
Icon Audio MFV3 ...................... £590
Horning Loudspeakers Eufrodite
mk 4/5 .............................£4,990
Franco Serblin Accordo .............£4,990
Focal Stella Utopia Be III EM .....£35,990
Focal Maestro Utopia III ..........£16,990
Focal Electra 1008Be ...............£1,590
Dynaudio Confidence C2 ...........£3,750
Diapason Italia Adamantes III
(standard edition) ................ £2,490
Diapason Adamantes III
25th Anniversary ................ £2,490
B&W Matrix 800 .................... £5,990
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Avalon Time Loudspeakers ......£39,990
Tice Audio Solo ........................ £390
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Nordost Quantum QX4 .............£1,090
Nordost Quantum QX2 ............... £690
Isotek EVO3 Aquarius ................. £890
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Entreq Tellus ............................ £850
Entreq Silver Tellus .................... £990
Entreq Silver Minimus ................ £325
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Entreq Atlatis Tellus .................£1,690
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S E A V P ............................. £490
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Magnum Dynalab MD 205 FM Tuner
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Email inf[email protected]
Telephone 020 8392 1959 / 07768 720456
STOCKIST OF Acapella Audio Analogue Domain ATC Audio Physic Aurosal Avalon B.M.C. Audio GmbH Burmester Cat Clear Audio
Denon Entreq Estelon Exogal Graham Tonearms JBL JM Lab Kiseki Lexicon Mark Levinson Melco Monitor Audio Nad Note Audio
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Telluriumq Tom Evans Townshend Transfiguration Ubiq Audio Velodyne VTL Yba AND MANY OTHERS
RIGHT: The big Yamaha amp is solidly built in
the usual late ’70s Japanese way while the dual
mains transformers [left] supply both amplifier
channels, meaning it isn’t a dual-mono design
There was never a hint of hardness to
the presentation and, while the A-1 could
sound a little soft around the edges, it
still proved surprisingly ‘modern’ in its
overall delivery. At no time did I feel myself
thinking that this was a good amplifier ‘for
something 40 years old’. Rather, I found
myself thinking that this was a very good
amplifier, full stop.
VOCAL MURMURS
Spinning up something soft and acoustic,
in this case ‘Blue Moon Revisited (Song
For Elvis)’ taken from The Cowboy Junkies’
Trinity Sessions CD [BMG74321 18356 2],
afforded the A-1 plenty of scope to show
its imaging abilities. The song sounded
deliciously atmospheric, with the softest of
vocal murmurs from singer Margo Timmins
and the finest instrumental backing effects
easy to hear. The amplifier offered a
pleasingly well-focused soundstage with a
fine sense of depth, even if it wasn’t quite
the most expansive in
lateral terms. In addition,
the amp’s low end
performance was deep
and engaging with an
easy warmth and fluidity.
Selecting a rather
more fast and furious
recording revealed that
the A-1 doesn’t mind at all if you want to
try and hurry it along a bit. The epic guitar
work from Herman Li on Dragonforce’s
‘Through The Fire And Flames’ from the
band’s Inhuman Rampage disc [Roadrunner
Records RR8070-2] scythed its way through
my loudspeakers with a good deal of the
manic atmosphere I am used to. This is,
after all, power metal at its finest and it
should leave you breathless and slightly
dazed! The A-1 didn’t batter me around
the cranium quite as effectively as does
my Naim Supernait
integrated amplifier, but
it certainly won’t leave
the rockers out there
feeling short-changed.
Once again, the unit’s
fulsome and taut bass
worked wonders in
revealing the depth and
weight baked into this kind of material.
Switching to the basic, non-direct
phono input showed the amp to have an
essentially similar character across both
MM and MC inputs. With an Ortofon 2M
Black MM cartridge then an Audio-Technica
AT33-PTG/II MC fitted to the SME 309 arm
‘Pressing the
big green “Disc”
button revealed
a beast within’
of my Michell Gyro SE
turntable, the results were
musical if perhaps not the most incisive in
their delivery. The A-1 certainly performed
well and gave a fine account of itself,
yet there was a hint that it seemed to be
holding back somewhat. Vocals appeared
to be hanging back from the loudspeakers
ever so slightly. In addition, while the
amplifier’s fine bass was still present and
correct, it seemed to lack a little of its
ultimate impact. In all, the results were
very good, but closing the front flap
and pressing the big green ‘Disc’ button
revealed a rather different beast within.
SUPERB IMPACT
With the Ortofon 2M Black feeding the
MM input, suddenly the A-1 found its soul.
Detail was still superb and the overall
sound was pleasingly neutral, but the
presentation now gained an appropriate
sense of atmosphere and, more
importantly, there was a depth
to the midrange that opened
performances up beautifully.
The action stepped fully into the
limelight as musicians seemed to
be blowing their instruments a
little more firmly, plucking strings
more positively and striking
percussion more enthusiastically.
Spinning ‘Holy Thursday’
from David Axelrod’s Songs Of
Innocence LP [Capitol ST 2982]
revealed previously unexplored
LEFT: Manual shows how to connect
the A-1 to other Yamaha products,
including NS-1000 speakers. The T-1
tuner shown is also a useful addition
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 121
Andrew Harrison - HiFi Critic Vol 11 No.1
www.mfaudio.co.uk
[email protected]
+44 (0) 1424 858 260
®
TELEPHONE 01273 041714
Brighton, East Sussex
l isten @ audion otel oun ge .c om
w w w.audion otel ounge .c om
SERIES: ENTRY | CLASSIC | TOWER | SPECIAL EDITIONS | ANNIVERSARY EDITIONS | ELECTRONICS
EXPERT ADVICE
LAB
REPORT
YAMAHA A-1 (Vintage)
ABOVE: A tidy rear panel with RCA connectors for all inputs and screw terminals for
speaker cables. Positive terminals are coloured grey rather than the conventional red
tonal richness and instrument
texture, with the bass guitar work
standing out proudly and the bass
drum strikes blessed with superb
immediacy and impact. No longer
was the amplifier simply reproducing
what was asked of it – it was now in
its stride and truly playing music.
Moving to the MC input, the
Audio-Technica AT33-PTG/II showed
once again that Yamaha’s work
on the disc section of the A-1 had
really paid off. The insightfulness
and richness of the MM option
remained, but a fraction more
clarity was revealed at the top end.
Cymbal work now stood out with a
real sense of crispness and the amp
offered a hint of action beyond the
outward limits of the loudspeakers.
It still wasn’t the most lateral
soundstage in absolute terms, but
it was now giving a better sense of
left-to-right scale.
Finally, a change of gear
showed the A-1 to be even more
comfortable at the low end. The
12in single of Galaxy’s ‘Dancing
Tight’ [Ensign Records 12ENY 501]
bounded along at a swift pace, and
was finally able to hit full gallop.
Most importantly, through the direct
phono stage, the A-1 lost the slight
sense of recalcitrance experienced
through the standard input. Now,
rhythms flow superbly and drum
strikes were even more vivid, making
for a real foot-tapping ride.
BUYING SECONDHAND
The A-1 is a sturdy and reliable
amp but users are still advised
to check any example carefully.
The usual advice concerning the
adjustment of bias and offset in the
power amplifier section apply as
much to the A-1 as they do to any
other design of this ilk, but bear
in mind also that there are offset
adjustments in the phono stage as
well. The MC stage can be tuned for
minimum distortion by a further pair
of internal controls if an accurate
distortion analyser is available.
Also common to the majority of
amplifiers of this era is the need to
clean the various switch and relay
contacts when bringing the unit
back into use. The loudspeaker
muting relay can be dismantled
for this operation, a fortunate fact
as it is no longer available as a
spare part. Poor soldering seems to
affect this model more than it does
some others, with the various PCBmounted power transistors and hot
running resistors being the prime
suspects for cracked joints. Also
check the edge connectors where
the power supply regulator PCB
plugs in for faults of this nature.
A word of warning before
delving in though. The very large
(18,000μF) reservoir capacitors
hold a considerable charge for a
long time after the A-1 has been
switched off and, while this isn’t a
great hazard to the repairer, it can
easily destroy the transistors in the
power amplifier if an accidental
short circuit is made. Discharging
each capacitor is therefore
mandatory before commencing
work. Use a 470ohm 3W resistor in
preference to simply shorting them
with a screwdriver since the latter
technique can cause sections of the
PCB foil to be burned away and can
damage other components.
For an amplifier celebrating its 40th birthday, Yamaha’s A-1
puts in a remarkably ‘modern’ performance. The FET-based
input, substantial SEPP ‘single-ended push-pull’ power amp and
DC-coupled output all play a role in the A-1 achieving a solid
2x100W/8ohm and 2x130W/4ohm with a decent 88.5dB A-wtd
S/N ratio (re. 0dBW) and extended +0.1dB/1Hz bass response.
Switch the tone controls in-circuit and there’s a –0.3dB/20Hz
to –12dB/6Hz subsonic bass roll-off but the treble response of
–0.32dB/20kHz and –3.5dB/100kHz is broadly unchanged. The
+43dB overall gain is rather high for modern line-level sources
and the 45-49dB stereo separation slightly weak but the
0.35dB channel balance error (re. 0dBW) is fine for the era.
Moreover, if the A-1’s rated power output of 70W/8ohm
and 80W/4ohm is clearly very conservative so too is its modest
~0.01% distortion rating and 0.08ohm output impedance
(20Hz-20kHz). In practice, the circuit techniques that inform
Yamaha’s NDCR (Noise and Distortion Clearance Range) assist
the A-1 in achieving a very low 0.0003-0.0045% distortion
[see Graph 2, below] or just 0.0004-0.0018% over its full 70W
range at 1kHz. And all this from a very low 0.005ohm source
impedance (20Hz-10kHz) that ensures excellent bass control
and a speaker-tolerant response.
Talking of which, under dynamic conditions the A-1 will
sustain 125W, 198W, 209W and 112W into 8, 4, 2 and 1ohm
loads at <1% THD at 1kHz/10msec [see Graph 1, below] –
equivalent to a maximum current of 10.6A. So the A-1 will
drive most likely partnering speakers with ease, particularly as
today’s designs are typically far more sensitive than those from
the late 1970s. PM
ABOVE: Dynamic power output versus distortion
(up to 1% THD) into 8ohm (black trace), 4ohm (red),
2ohm (cyan) and 1ohm (green) speaker loads
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
The Yamaha A-1 is certainly a well
engineered amplifier and one
that turns in a fine performance
via all its inputs. However, the
priority given to vinyl replay
thanks to the attention paid to
the circuit design means the
phono inputs are the stars of
the show here. It may now be
somewhat forgotten, but the A-1
was a taste of things to come and
marked a technological stepping
stone from the ’70s to the ’80s.
Sound Quality: 84%
0
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
- 100
ABOVE: Distortion versus extended frequency, 5Hz40kHz at 10W/8ohm (left channel, back; right, red)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Power output (<1% THD, 8/4ohm)
101W / 131W
Dynamic power (<1% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm)
125W / 198W / 209W / 112W
Output impedance (20Hz–20kHz)
0.005–0.130ohm
Freq. resp. (20Hz–20kHz/100kHz, 0dBW)
+0.0dB to –0.32dB/–3.5dB
Input sensitivity (for 0dBW/70W)
19mV / 162mV (Tuner input)
A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBW/70W)
88.5dB / 107.0dB
Distortion (20Hz-20kHz, 10W/8ohm)
0.0003–0.0045%
Power consumption (Idle/rated output)
42W / 313W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
435x117x381mm / 15.8kg
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 123
FROM
FR
ROM
MT
THE
HE V
VAULT
AULT
Acoustic Research LST
John Crabbe hears the US company’s Laboratory Standard Transducer
n September 1970 Acoustic
Research held a technical
seminar at its European factory
ry
at Amersfoort in Holland.
Roy Allison – then Vice President
of the firm’s engineering and
manufacturing division – discussed
d
the philosophy and techniques
underlying AR loudspeaker design,
testing and manufacture.
Several interesting and slightly
controversial points were brought
up, particularly: (i) the direct/
s’’
reverberant sound ratio at listeners’
ears in typical home environments,
and the bearing this has on
loudspeaker directional properties;
and (ii) the overall frequency
response balance that should be
adopted in a speaker to be used for
domestic listening.
On the latter point, we were
intrigued to note that while the
famed AR-3a reproducer has a
deliberately non-flat balance when
its midrange and tweeter controls
are set at the suggested normal
positions, this was corrected when
A/B comparisons were made with
I
Hi-Fi
News
Aug 1973
Each month
HFN will bring
you an article
from our vast
archive of
features and
reviews from
yesteryear
ABOVE: W
Weighing
i hi iin att 90lb
90lbs apiece, each Acoustic Research LST cabinet measured
20x27x9.75in (hwd) and sported an oiled walnut finish with a ‘natural’ coloured grille
cloth covering its nine drivers. Price at the time of review was £220 per pair
simulated ‘live’ sources. In other
words, to achieve an accurate tonal
balance in the acoustic reproduction
of an electrical input signal, the
AR-3a had to be modified.
INTRIGUING OUTCOME
The argument behind this is that
because most users (American users,
anyway) will for most of the time be
listening to overbright, ambiencestarved, close-miked signals, then
the loudspeakers
should be used
to compensate.
My view is that
the amplifier tone
controls should
be employed for
this, as otherwise
we could get into
a spiral of ever-brighter recordings
and ever-dimmer loudspeakers.
Because several of us at the
symposium believed this aspect of
AR’s philosophy to be misguided,
the Amersfoort event was followed
by a series of lengthy letters sent
back and forth across the Atlantic.
One intriguing outcome was the
arrival at the magazine offices of an
experimental pair of AR-3F speakers.
The ‘F’ stood for flat, and a
spectral balance carrying this
designation was available on one
position of a six-way switch fitted
to the front of the speaker. Despite
all its doubts, AR seemed to be
toying with the idea of a nominally
flat speaker response (at least to
satisfy a few awkward European
perfectionists) and again letters
were exchanged regarding the
merits of this particular attempt –
which I regarded as very fine.
It transpired that despite its
virtues the AR-3F was not a practical
proposition. The American consumer
is apparently noticeably more prone
than his British counterpart to feed
in such high powers that drive units
are often damaged. As the AR-3’s
top end can only
be ‘flattened’ by
allowing relatively
more power to
reach the mid and
HF units, the risks
became too high
for the comfort
of AR’s very
comprehensive repair scheme and
five-year guarantee.
‘Tonally the
speaker makes
an absolutely
splendid impact’
124 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
INSIDE INFORMATION
Thus was born the idea of a larger
speaker system, based on the AR-3a
and using the same drive units, but
incorporating no fewer than four
each of midrange and tweeter units.
This is the Laboratory Standard
Transducer, which is necessarily
so expensive that it must be
regarded not only as a high-grade
domestic speaker, but should also
be considered for studio monitoring
work – where it may on occasion
need the fuse so thoughtfully fitted
in case someone feeds in 180W for
over ten seconds!
The nominally ‘flat’ response
given by switch position No 2 is
plotted in the second diagram.
This is necessarily based on AR’s
own curves, which represent the
total energy output obtained by
integrating a number of separate
measurements. With so many drive
units, disposed on three angled
surfaces, the interference patterns
become too fearful for a single axial
measurement to have any meaning.
However, my ears confirm that
the net effective response must be
something rather like this plot, with
a suspicion of a very slight rounding
off in the extreme treble above 9kHz
(which removes just a wee bit of
edge from some ‘close’ recordings),
and not quite a full massiveness on
the very deepest organ pedals or
large bass drum.
Although most of the above is
relatively ‘inside information’, some
small signs of the LST’s ancestry
are made visible to the individual
user. For instance, the instruction
label on the speaker’s back panel
suggests that while switch position
No 2 ‘provides flattest acoustic
energy output’, a higher numbered
setting (4, 5, or 6) ‘usually provides
most accurate reconstruction of
concert-hall balance for playback
of recordings’. Also, in the
accompanying booklet it is stated
that switch positions 5 and 6 give
a spectral balance ‘approximately
the same as that of an AR-3a with
its level controls in the suggested
normal settings’.
To give some idea of what the six
switch positions actually do, I have
plotted here the equivalent steps
in electrical response. By using a
built-in autotransformer to effect
these changes, AR has kept the
sensitivity constant in the midrange
(575Hz-5kHz). Thus each alteration
of balance may be seen as a step up
or down at the bass and treble ends
of the spectrum, with position No 2
used as a ‘flat’ reference.
Whereas No 1 lowers bass and
raises treble by 1dB each, positions
3, 4, 5 and 6 effect progressive
tipping of the response up at bass
and down at treble, with an extreme
imbalance of ±4dB in position 6.
Each single step of the switch is
subjectively very subtle, but if one
sets a pair of LSTs side-by-side, one
at switch position No 1 and the
other at No 6, a wide-range music
signal sounds considerably different
as it is switched between the two.
In fact my preference for normal
listening was consistently on
positions 2 and 1. These produced
the same general balance as my own
carefully adjusted speakers, which in
turn have been set against Spendor
BC-1, Rogers BBC, Quad ELS and IMF
Monitors. Some commercial records
are overbright on these settings, but
many are not, and a good BBC live
music broadcast is superbly ‘right’.
ABOVE: Plots
showing effects
of engaging each
of the six switch
positions. No 2
results in a flat
response while
position 1 lowers
bass and increases
treble. Meanwhile,
positions 3-6
increase bass and
lower the treble
TOO FEARFUL
The recommended physical
positioning of the LSTs, incidentally,
is up from the floor and flat against a
firm wall. The theoretical responses
are obtained only in such a position,
though this has its snags (see later),
and I feel that it might have been
more useful – especially for studio
applications – if the spectrum switch
were used instead to contour the
lower bass for a flat response in
various stated positions in relation to
boundary walls, floor, corners, etc.
BELOW: A closer
look at the effect
of switch position
No 2, which is
based on AR’s own
curves. The author
suspects a slight
rounding off in the
extreme treble
above 9kHz
LOST BEARINGS
No self-contained cabinet speaker
I have heard does well with such
recordings in direct comparison
with my own concrete monsters, yet
during A/B comparisons I still lost
my bearings on several occasions
and had to look at the switch
rather than rely on my ears to know
which speakers were in use. Also,
the influences of room eigentones
and positioning in relation to walls
and corners will affect extreme LF
performance, while there are in
any case precious few commercial
speakers (the IMF Monitor comes to
mind) with a response that is down
by less than 5dB at 30Hz.
Meanwhile, the enclosure is
sealed for ‘acoustic suspension’
loading, and the resulting main LF
system resonance (remarkably well
damped, with a very ‘tight’ sounding
bass) occurs at around 42Hz, which
is quite exceptionally low for an IB
and permits clean reproduction
down to at least 30Hz.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 125
FROM
FR
ROM T
THE
HE V
VAULT
AU
ULT
On response, then, the LST is
a very fine device (with spectrum
switch at No 2 position!). It makes
an absolutely splendid impact,
tonally, on wide-range musical
material, though it is relatively
inefficient in the electro-acoustic
sense and needs an amplifier of
30W or more per channel to achieve
realistic levels on full orchestral
and choral music, or on a closely
balanced piano recording.
The amplifier should also be
tolerant of rather low impedances,
as the LST falls to below 4ohm
at some parts of the spectrum,
depending on switch position. On
switch positions 1 and 2, impedance
remains above 6.5ohm up to 4kHz,
then falls steadily to level off to
just under 4ohm above 12kHz. On
position 3, the top-end low point
is joined by a fall to just above
4ohm at 90-110Hz. On positions 4,
5 and 6 the latter dip goes down
to a minimum of
approximately
3.5ohm and is
below 4ohm over
the range 70180Hz, but the HF
end stays above
5ohm on No 4 and
is up out of harm’s
way on positions 5 and 6.
Regarding colorations, there is a
suspicion of something happening
in the lower hundreds of Hertz,
the tenor-clef area: a very slight
‘cardboardiness’ or emphasis of
the sort that tends, for instance,
to make an oboe sound more like
its big cousin the cor anglais, to
round off some piano crispness, or
to impart a lower pitch and slightly
greater prominence to random
background noise in comparison,
say, with a Quad ELS.
However, this seems to vary with
cabinet placing in relation to walls,
etc, and was reduced by breaking
the rules and bringing the speakers
out from the wall, or at an angle to
it, though each speaker was kept
at about 18in off the floor for all
my tests. This really is an extremely
subtle business and only worth
mentioning because of the very high
price/quality level. In comparison
with most hi-fi loudspeakers – even
very expensive ones – the LST lacks
obvious colorations.
A good sign here is that it very
impartially presents the wide range
of tonal and ambient balances found
in recordings: one is very much
aware of the differences between
records when using a pair of LSTs.
Some speakers always sound simply
like themselves, but the LST sounds
like the signals it is fed. There are
few speakers I find ‘liveable with’
these days, but the LSTs have been
in use for nearly two months as I
write, and I have almost given up
switching back to my own.
TAKING SIDES
The one serious criticism arises from
two aspects of the disposition of
drive units in the LST. The central
panel carries the bass unit and two
tweeters, while each of the two 45º
side panels carries two midrange
units and a further tweeter. This
arrangement ensures a very wide
dispersion of all frequencies, with no
significant changes of tonal balance
as one moves laterally in front of the
speaker. There is
no HF ‘beaming’.
Now, while
frequencydependent
changes of
loudness with
lateral movement
are a bad thing
(good point for the LST), some
change of overall loudness with
listening angle is desirable if stereo
reproduction is to be accurate over
a reasonable listening area, and not
just in the ‘stereo seat’. A perfect
loudspeaker would have a radiation
pattern giving maximum level to the
far side of the listening area, thus
compensating for Haas-effect, which
tends to shift and broaden central
soundstage images towards the
nearer speaker.
Any reproducer tending towards
an omnidirectional radiation p
pattern
cannot, by
sati
t sf
ti
sfyy
definition, sa
satisfy
ar
this angular
w a
w,
n
nd
intensity law,
and
en
nt
this is evident
subjectivelyy
ST
Ts.
s A
with the LSTs.
lac
aced
ed
centrally placed
ts an
a
d
source shifts
and
o on
o
e
broadens to
one
n as
as on
o
e
side as soon
one
m tthe
he
moves from
t, a
nd
stereo seat,
and
tin
ing
g wi
with
th
experimenting
g in
gl
ing
g se
eem
emss no
nott
speaker angling
seems
‘After all, the
LST will take
a tremendous
acoustic bashing’
ABOVE: The
author placed
the speakers
in locations ‘A’
and ‘B’ for the
review, suggesting
position ‘C’ for
longer listening
rooms. Arrows ‘Y’
and ‘X’ show how
sound from the
tweeters crosses
the bisecting line
BELOW: The LST
used the same
drivers found in
the AR-3a but
packed four
midrange units,
four tweeters plus
a 12in woofer into
each cabinet
to help a great deal because there
is no semblance of an asymmetry
in the radiation pattern that could
aid the hearing system of a listener
placed to one side.
With most conventional
forward-facing speakers one is
forced, because of HF beaming,
to accept a compromise between
tonal and stereo stability, and it is
clearly legitimate to dislike such
compromises, which give neither
perfect stereo nor perfect tonal
balance except perhaps in the
stereo seat. With the LST there is
no compromise tonally, but one has
to put up with rather vague stereo
when sitting to one side of the
listening room.
HOPPING AROUND
Here, the second stereo limitation
p Whereas with most
comes up.
syyst
stem
em a lateral move from the
systems
sp
pea
ake
ke bisecting line (stereo
speakers’
seat
se
att) simply
at)
s
seat)
shifts and broadens
cent
ce
ntrr stereo image, with the
nt
a central
LSTs
LS
Ts tthe
Ts
h effect is more anomalous
beca
be
ca
aus
u one has also then moved
because
diff
di
ffer
ff
erren
e
differentially
in relation to the
vari
va
riou
ri
o s midrange and tweeter
ou
various
u
un
nit
itts on each speaker.
units
Id
dea
eall the latter would all
Ideally
be iin
n a vvertical line, so that
w
wh
atev
at
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ev
whatever
sp
pat
atia
ia
iall
allly, happens to every bit
spatially,
o iit!
of
t! H
er though, we have
er
Here,
ffrequency-dependent
freq
fr
req
eque
u nc
ue
ncyy
shifts, so that
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 127
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Retail Clearance
Bel Canto DAC3.7/VBL1
£3,999
£3,299
Bel Canto REF500M power amplifier (pair)
£3,998
£2,199
Bel Canto REF1000M Mk2 power amp (pair) £7,000
£2,499
Bel Canto REFStream streamer
£2,200
£1,749
Burson Audio HA160D headphone amp/DAC
£549
£249
Burson Audio Timekeeper
£1,950
£1,199
Burson Audio Soloist
£799
£679
Chord Chordette Maxx amplifier
£989
£799
Clearaudio Performance DC turntable
£2,495
£1,999
Cyrus 82 DAC QX (Quartz Silver)
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Denon DVD-A1UD universal player
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Devialet 400
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Focal Diablo Utopia + stands (White Carrara) £9,898
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Focal Scala Utopia V2 (Black Lacquer)
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Grace M903 headphone amplifier
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KEF Reference 5 (Gloss Black)
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KEF R700 (Rosewood)
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27/01/2017
27/02/2017
13:46
10:49
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12:57
Linn Akurate 4200 (Silver)
Linn Majik 4100 (Black)
Marantz AV8802 AV processor
Moon 180 MiND streamer
Moon 380D MiND DAC streamer
Naim NAP300DR power amplifier
Naim NDX network music player
Naim Supernait integrated amplifier
Nordost Valhalla XLR-XLR cable (3m pair)
Pass Labs XP-25 phono stage
Plinius SA-Reference power amplifier
PMC Fact 12 (Tiger Ebony)
Proac D30R (Cherry)
Raidho D1 + stands (Walnut Burl)
Sennheiser HD800 headphones
Sim2 HT5000 projector
Sonus Faber Olympica II (Graphite)
Spendor A5R (Walnut)
Torus RM16 power conditioner
Vitus RCD-101 (Black)
Vitus RI-100 (Black)
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FROM
FR
ROM T
THE
HE V
VAULT
AU
ULT
overtones don’t necessarily move
with fundamentals, or high notes
with low notes. Having sensed some
odd confusions in a stereo opera
recording, I played a harp record
in double-mono mode. Ideally,
it should have remained central
and narrow regardless of listening
position but it wouldn’t really
centralise at all. At any position away
from the bisecting line it hopped
around all over the place depending
on which notes were being plucked
or harmonics excited. Thus tonal
consistency for various listening
positions have been achieved at the
expense of frequency-dependent
stereo positioning between those
same positions.
INTO CONFUSION
This was with the speakers
positioned approximately as at
‘A’ in the third illustration, which
I guess would be a likely sort of
configuration for most users. The
line ‘X’ represents a bisector of the
LST’s front and side panels, which
both carry tweeters near the top
edge. As one moves across this line
there will be a varying interference
pattern and some corresponding
shifts of time and phase, and I can
only assume that what Joseph Enock
has called the ‘localising faculty’ is
thrown into confusion by this.
Anyway, pursuing this hypothesis,
it occurred to me that the LSTs
could just as well be placed as at
‘B’, to put the tweeters’ bisector
on the line ‘Y’ well in front of the
listening area. This worked in the
sense that the frequency-dependent
element in stereo image-shifting
was drastically reduced, though the
aforementioned overall shifts still
arose. However, the latter are of the
more usual and commonly tolerated
kind and I would regard the LST’s
stereo performance when used in
the ‘B’ position as acceptable if far
from perfect.
In an acoustically very lively room
it might be worth bringing the
speakers forward to position ‘C’ to
ensure longer delays on reflections
arising from radiation towards the
rear wall, and generally to reduce
room coloration – though this would
require a rather long listening room
if the seating area were not to be
unduly cramped.
Many readers will not be at all
bothered by these reservations,
and indeed it is true that the
ear is tolerant of inaccuracies in
presentation of a stereophonic aural
picture that would seem absurd to
the eye if applied to a stereoscopic
visual picture. But if you are one of
those who choose to play mono
speech and solo guitar records via
a single loudspeaker because you
cannot abide the unnatural breadth
so often (and wrongly!) achieved
with double-mono, then despite the
LST’s superb performance in other
respects you should not make out
that cheque for £440.
ABOVE: Original
pages from the
Aug 1973 issue of
HFN in which John
Crabbe tested the
Acoustic Research
LST speaker. It was
intended that HFN
scribe Frank Jones
would undertake
the review, but at
the last moment
he was recruited
by AR itself. Editor
John Crabbe then
stepped in...
SUPERB SOUND
If, on the other hand, you fail to
understand why some people get
so hot around the collar over the
directional aspects of stereo, and
simply appreciate the generally
more open sound that it achieves,
a pair of LSTs will provide some
superb ‘state of the art’ sound, and
at as high a level as you or your
neighbours could stand.
After all, despite that fuse, the
LST will take a tremendous acoustic
bashing without the slightest sign of
overload or strain.
BELOW: Period
brochure shows
speakers with all
drivers exposed
and points to
the speakers’
use at the Royal
Opera House
Covent Garden
where ‘the sound
must remain
indistinguishable
from its live
counterpart’
Also in HFN this
month in 1973
OCTAVE EQUALISER
Audio engineer Reg Williamson
explains how to build your own
graphic equaliser.
ROOMS & RESONANCES
R H Wallace examines the role
your listening room might play
in the way you perceive sound.
THE THINGS I HEAR
By Arthur Jacobs.
MUSIC ON RECORD
The Basic Repertoire – Verdi
Requiem; The Great Interpreters
– Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.
HISTORICALLY SPEAKING
By John Freestone.
AUDIO PATENTS
Adrian Hope brings you his
monthly column.
HINTS & TIPS
Harry Leeming helps you get
more from your current system.
FM DIARY
By Austin Uden.
READERS’ PROBLEMS
Examined by ‘Crossover’.
DUAL 1229 PLAYER UNIT
By Donald Aldous and Peter Cox.
SHURE V15/III CARTRIDGE
B J Webb gives his verdict.
AUGUST 2017 | www.hifinews.co.uk | 129
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Distributed by Signature Audio Systems | 07738 007776 | www.psaudio.com
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MARKETPLACE
Please email your entries to: [email protected]
THE PLACE TO
BUY & SELL AUDIO
EQUIPMENT & ACCESSORIES
ARMSTRONG 623 tuner
NOW FREE
9. TURNTABLES
2. AMPLIFIERS
7. SPEAKERS
NAIM Nait 1 amplifier. Red
LED light, superb condition with
excellent sound quality. Very
reluctant sale. Asking £425.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 07432 720033
VIENNA Acoustics Baby Grand
ELECTROCOMPANIET
monitors. Original owner. 7/2015
manufacture date. Excellent
condition. £750 for the pair.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01743 344136
EC4.8 preamplifier. Excellent
condition with box. £795.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 07913 236601
PAPWORTH Audio Technology
TVA10 power amplifier and Yamaha
CD-S1000 SACD player with owner’s
manuals. Also ELAC speakers and
stands. Cables included. All items
bought in 1999. Hardly used. Good
condition. Will not split. Buyer to
collect. £750. Email: [email protected]
co.uk. Tel:01629 57581
KRELL FPB300 stereo amp,
300W-per-channel. Just returned
from Absolute Sounds with
intermittent fault now rectified,
paperwork available. Checked and
full bill of health, working perfectly.
Smoke/pet-free music room and in
immaculate condition. £2500 ono.
Email: [email protected]
3. CABLES
AUDIOQUEST Gibraltar 2m
speaker cable, spades, £650. Sky
1m RCA interconnect £490. Sky
1m XLR interconnect £900. Eagle
Eye 1m coax digital £450. Isotek
Syncro 1 mains lead £680. Email:
[email protected]
4. CD/DVD PLAYERS
LINN Unidisk 1.1 black CD/SACD/
DVD player with Dynamik. Excellent
condition with no cosmetic marks.
Includes Linn black interconnect
cables and power cable (both
unused), owner’s manual and
original packing. £1250.
Email: [email protected]
5. DACS
CHORD HugoTT in black, lovely
condition with remote control and
original box. £1625. Audiolab M-DAC
Plus in black. Under guarantee until
2018, only one owner. Remote
control, instructions and original
packaging in lovely condition
(mint?). £525. Email: [email protected]
talktalk.net. Tel: 07549 603398
loudspeakers, Symphony edition,
slight cosmetic damage to front
corner, piano black, £1500 ono.
Tel: 07415 649912
GENELEC M040 studio
KEF 195 tweeters x 2, B110 mid/
bass speakers x2, KDN20 crossover
units for above x 2, SP2264
crossover units x 2 for KAR 13Q
uni-Q speakers. Offers please.
Tel: 01531 631337
AM/FM. Teak case, piano keys with
manual. Stored for 15 years but still
in good working order, £50.
Tel: 01484 512307
MICHELL Orbe SE (silver). SME
309 arm, spare headshell. Furutech
AG 12 tonearm lead. SME and Rega
armplate for Orbe. Owned from
new, A1 condition. Original boxes
and instructions. Buyer collects.
£2250. Tel: 01376 332186
MICHELL Gyro SE with
TechnoArm and Never Connected
HR power supply. Includes original
brass counterweights and a chromeplated set. Purchased new in May
2008. Near mint and very lightly
used. No more than 200 hours.
Original packaging, oil, receipts and
documentation. £1500 collected.
Add Zyx R100H cartridge for
additional £350. Tel: 07948 352412.
Email: [email protected]
11. SYSTEMS
REGA 3 with RB300 arm and
Ortofon OM5, £150. NAD 3070E
receiver, £30. Arcam 8SE CD player,
£40. Nakamichi cassette deck 2,
£40. Mission 753 Freedom speakers
in black ash, £100. Collection
only from Suffolk. Email: [email protected]
aol.com for details. Tel: 01502
565406/07788 821996
12. MISCELLANEOUS
MF Encore 225 streamer. Too
complicated for pensioner. Just six
weeks old. £3300 ovno. Teac UD H0
DAC headphone. Hardly used, £175.
Tel: 07415 649912
RUNNING Springs Audio Duke
mains conditioner with two sockets.
£875 ono. Tel: 07955 017214
PIONEER CT-F9191 stereo
cassette tape deck in original
packaging. Sensible offers please.
Tel: 07710 453050
TECHNICS SL-150mk2 quartz
INCOGNITO Easy Rider Rega
synthesiser direct-drive turntable
with SME arm. Please make me a
realistic offer. Tel: 07710 453050
VTA fixer. Height raiser for RB300.
£10. Tel: 01445 712462
13. WANTED
KEF KHT 2005 HTS 2001 Egg
SME 3009 Series 2 improved
Uni-Q satellite speakers. One pair,
excellent condition, boxed.
Tel: 01531 631337
tonearm. Non-detachable shell.
Little used. Excellent condition,
£140. Tel: 01373 301423
FAULTY or non-working Quad 44
QUAD 77-11L loudspeakers
CONDUCTOR airbearing
HI-FI NEWS Issues 1 and 3
in excellent condition, boxed
with manuals and cotton gloves.
Also included are two Atacama
sand-filled speaker stands. £270.
Collection preferred or could meet
within 25 miles of Birmingham.
Email: [email protected]
tonearm. Never used. Complete with
air pump, smoothing tank, air tubing
and instruction manual. Best offer
around £1000. Tel: 07787 446116.
Email: [email protected]
to 9, of Volume 1. Also February
1996. Email: [email protected]
SOUNDLAB DynaStat
floorstanding loudspeakers,
upgraded factory toroidal
transformers, mint condition,
unmarked in American walnut,
unused and stored properly. £750.
Tel: 07572 865525
TANNOY Definition DC10A
speakers, piano lacquer black,
18 months old, as new, £5500 ono.
Triangle Sub 222, vgc, £250 ono.
Musical Fidelity X-LPS phono amp,
£50. Email: [email protected]
Tel: 07802 989899
TECHNICS SL-10 with all
accessories, manual, original box,
Ortofon OMP30 cartridge, £350.
Rotel RA680 integrated amp, £100.
Buyer collects. Tel: 01275 875039
preamp, later model preferred. Cash
paid. Tel: 01758 613790
SONUS FABER Amati
Anniversario Homage, Guarneri
Memento, Amati Futura or Guarneri
Evolution loudspeakers. Still looking.
Must be in absolutely mint condition
and red. Tel: 01269 595271
PLACING AN ADVERTISEMENT IN THE HI-FI NEWS CLASSIFIEDS SECTION
Fill in your advertisement copy here...
Please write the product category number that best suits your equipment in the
first square. The product categories are: 1 – Accessories; 2 – Amps; 3 – Cables;
4 – CD/DVD players; 5 – DACS; 6 – Software (CDs, records etc.); 7 – Speakers; 8 –
Tuners; 9 – Turntables; 11 – Complete Systems; 12 – Miscellaneous; 13 – Wanted
We will insert the telephone number you want to appear in your advertisement(s)
as many times as is needed. You only need to fill it in once and it only counts as
one word – even if you run multiple adverts.
8. TUNERS
MUSICAL Fidelity A3.2 RDS
tuner, £175. Absolutely spotless,
remote, original box. Kept covered
and clean. Beautiful.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 07500 804700
GOODMANS 150 tuner/
amplifier, 75W per channel, superb
specification. Teak case and black
fascia. Getting on in years but a
heavyweight performer. £135 ono.
Tel: 0771 0453050
132 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
Tel (to appear in advert):
Please post this completed coupon to Hi-Fi News magazine, MyTimeMedia Ltd, Suite 25, Eden
House, Enterprise Way, Edenbridge, TN8 6HF, or email your advert to [email protected]
Hi-Fi News accepts no responsibility for description or condition of items advertised.
Call: 0845 6019390
Email: [email protected]
ALL 2016 STOCK REDUCED!
Amplifiers
Abrahamsen V2.0, excellent boxed
Aesthetix Atlas stereo power, superb and mint
Arcam A19 Integrated amplifier, excellent boxed
Arcam A90 Integrated amplifier, excellent boxed
Audia Flight Pre and Flight 50 Class A power
Audio Analogue Maestro Settanta, in black
Audio Research Ref 610 Monos, boxed REDUCED
Audio Research D250, excellent serviced boxed
Audio Research LS17se, near mint boxed £4.5k new
Audio Research Reference 3 Preamplifier
Audio Research Reference 110 Power boxed
Audiolab 8000P excellent boxed
Audiolab 8000A, great integrated with MM/MC
BAT VK50se Preamplifier, factory service 2016
Bel Canto, Evo 6 Multichannel power amp boxed
Cambridge Audio CXA60, excellent
Chord Electronics CPA5000, remote nr mint boxed
Chord Electronics SPM1200E nr mint boxed
Chord Electronics Prima Preamplifier, mint
Chord Electronics Mezzo 140 Power, mint
Chord Electronics CPA3000, nr mint boxed
Cyrus 6XP Integrated, black, excellent
Cyrus Smartpower, vgc
Devialet 400 combo, mint boxed ex demo
Devialet 250, mint boxed, our demo unit
Esoteric C03/A03, pre/power ex demo boxed
Exposure 3010 Power amplifier
Krell FPB400cx, excellent boxed
Lector VFI 70L, 70watt Hybrid Integrated, excellent!
Leema Libra Dac/Preamplifier, nr mint
Mark Levinson 535 monster integrated, nr mint boxed
Melody SP9, excellent little integrated
Ming Da MC5S 5 channel Valve Power amp boxed
Moon W7RS, excellent
Musical Fidelity A3cr Preamp
Musical Fidelity A3.2cr Power ampifier
Musical Fidelity MX Preamplifier
Musical Fidelity NuVista 300 Ltd Pre/Power set, Fab!
Musical Fidelity A308cr Preamplifier
Musical Fidelity A308cr Power amplifier
NAIM NAC202, ex demo nr mint
NAIM Supernait 2, near mint
NAIM NAC32.5, S MC boards, excellent
NAIM NAC42, excellent
NAIM NAP110, excellent
NAIM NAP250DR, near mint
Nakamichi 410/420 Pre/Power near mint retro!
Pass Labs XP10, excellent pre, marked hence
Pathos Classic One, superb boxed
Pathos InPol Remix Hi Dac, ex dem,
Pathos Logos Integrated, excellent,
Pathos TT Integrated, excellent,
Pioneer A-A9J, excellent with remote
Prima Luna Dialogue 7 Monos, nr mint boxed
Prima Luna Prologue 5 Power, nr mint boxed
Primare A30.1 Integrated
Quad 34/306, excellent
Quad 606 Superb condition
Rega Elex R, excellent boxed
Roksan Caspian M2 Integrated, near mint boxed
Roksan Caspian M2 Power amplifier, nr mint boxed
Sugden Masterclass Monoblocks
Tag McLaren 100X3r 3 channel power
Tandberg TPA3003 Power amplifier, excellent!
Tube Technology Unisys Signature integrated
Unison Research Sinfonia, excellent boxed
Unison Research S6 valve integrated, superb boxed
YBA WM202 Integrated receiver, excellent boxed
Radio/Recorders
Arcam T51 excellent
Denon TU1800DAB, exellent
Fostex G16, 16 track Reel to Reel, amazing!
Musical Fidelity A3 tuner, excellent boxed
NAD 402 AM/FM award winner
Naim UnitiServe, near mint boxed
Pioneer TX7500, retro quality
Pioneer FF6J mk2 FM/DAB vgc
Primare T20 FM Tuner
Quad FM4, vgc
Revox PR99, crated, REDUCED
Revox A77, just serviced, great condition
Rotel RT850, excellent
Sansui DR201V FM/DAB Tuner
Sony MDS JA20ES, excellent
Technics RS-AZ7, excellent 3 head deck
Technics RS1500 in flightcase near mint
Yamaha KX580SE, excellent
used Call
x/d 4899
used 399
used 279
x/d 3749
used 1199
used12799
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used 8499
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used 3249
used 649
x/d 3499
used 6499
used 549
used Call
used 4299
used 429
used 599
used 399
used 2499
used 799
used 899
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x/d 1999
used 399
used 199
used 249
x/d 2999
used 499
used 2499
used 899
x/d 1999
used 1399
used Call
used 399
used 2249
used 699
used 549
used 399
used 399
x/d 799
x/d 1349
used 799
used 3899
used 599
used 479
used Call
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used 1749
used 499
usedSOLD
used 149
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used 199
used 19
used 1279
used 99
used 199
used 199
used 149
used 729
used Call
used 29
used 89
used 299
used 199
used 2249
used 89
Analogue
Acos Lustre GST1 Tonearm, near mint boxed
Audio Research PH6 Phono stage nr mint
Audio Research PH8 Phono stage nr mint
Audio Research Reference Phono 2 nr mint
Bakoon EQA11r phonostage, boxed with stand
Clearaudio Emotion, Satisfy arm
Dynavector DVXX2/2, vgc boxed
Garrard 301, Mission 774, serviced, fair cosmetics
Garrard 301, SME Series 3, excellent
Garrard 401 Motor unit only no arm
Graham Phantom Supreme 12”, SME cut
Linn LP12 Armagedon, Aro, excellent boxed
Linn LP12 Ittok LVII, Hercules, boxed
Lyra Skala, excellent boxed
Lyra Argo, excellent boxed
Michell Gyro Se, Rega arm, excellent boxed ac motor
Michell Gyrodec, Rega arm, excellent boxed
Michell Syncro, excellent
Michell HR Psu, upgrade for DC motored decks
Michell Hydraulic Reference, Fluid arm
Michell Iso MC Phono stage
Michell Tecnoarm excellent black
Michell QC upgrade Psu for a/c motor
Nottingham Analogue DAIS, near mint, ex demo
Origin Live Silver Mk3a, excellent boxed
Ortofon Cadenza Black, mint boxed
Ortofon SMG212, vgc
Project Debut Carbon, excellent boxed
Rega RP6 TTPSU with Exact, nr mint boxed
Rega RP8 Apheta 2, nr mint boxed
Roksan Xerxes 20Plus, Ref PSU, boxed mint
Roksan Nima, excellent
Shelter 501/II, excellent boxed
SME V excellent
SME IV, excellent boxed
Technics 1200 boxed, Timestep Psu, Rega RB303
Technics 1200, standard spec, near mint
Technics 1210mk2, Hynes PSU, Mike New bearing etc
Technics 1210, excellent
Thorens TD209 turntable package REDUCED
Thorens TD150, 2000 Plinth and 3009, superb
Townshend Elite Rock, Excalibur, cover
Transfiguration Axia S, VdH retip and boron cantilever
Transfiguration Pheonix S, excellent boxed
VDH Colibri M/C cartridge, as new boxed, REDUCED
VDH Condor M/C cartridge as new boxed, REDUCED
Whest Audio 30RDT Phono stage, vgc+
Zeta tonearam, excellent heavyweight arm
Digital
Arcam UDP411, superb boxed
Arcam FMJ CDS27, superb boxed
Audio Analogue Vivace USB DAC,with Pre out
Audio Research DAC8, excellent boxed
Auralic Vega DAC, superb boxed
Bel Canto PL1 mutiformat player, good condition boxed
Chord Hugo DAC mint boxed
Chord Red Reference Mk2, remote boxed
Consonance CD2.2, new sealed
Cyrus Stream XP, excellent condition, boxed
DCS Puccini and Wordclock in black
EAR Acute 3, our demo unit near mint
Eastern Electric Minimax CD, excellent!
Leema Antila IIS Eco, mint boxed
M2Tech Young DSD DAC
MBL C31 CD Player, remote, boxed, superb!
Meridian Sooloos Control 15 and Twinstore NAS
Musical Fidelity A5.5CD, excellent
Musical Fidelity 3D CD player, excellent boxed
Musical Fidelity kW DM25 Transport
Musical Fidelity TriVista 21 DAC, excellent
NAIM Unitiserve SSD, excellent boxed
NAIM N172XS Streamer/Preamp, radio module
NAIM NDX, excellent boxed
NAIM ND5XS, excellent boxed
NAIM CDS3, excellent boxed
Oppo BDP103D, excellent
Pioneer PDD-D9J, vgc remote
Prima Luna Prologue 8, ex dem boxed,
Primare D30.2, excellent
Quad 66CD player, excellent with remote
Rega DAC, excellent
Rega Apollo CD, excellent
Rega Saturn R, our demo unit nr mint
Resolution Audio Opus 21, excellent crated
Roksan Atessa, CD, excellent boxed
Sugden Masterclass PDT4F CD newer version boxed
Whest Audio DAP.9
used 299
x/d 1999
usedDue in
used 5999
used 1399
used 599
used 999
used 899
used 1499
used 699
x/d 3199
used 2999
used 1199
used 2199
used 479
used 1199
used 1399
used 599
used 379
used 879
used 199
used 399
used 249
x/d 3899
used 449
x/d 1460
used 399
used 179
used 749
used 1699
used 2249
used 379
used 499
used 1899
used 1499
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used 549
used 1449
used 449
x/d 599
used 579
used 999
used 799
used 999
x/d 2749
new 1749
used 1549
used 599
used
used
x/d
used
used
used
used
used
new
used
used
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used
549
499
999
2199
1599
1199
849
6499
649
749
6399
Call
399
2749
Call
3499
1899
799
999
999
499
1749
1299
2499
1499
1999
349
399
1099
499
299
349
299
949
1199
499
1749
279
Loudspeakers
Aspara Acoustics HL6 in Oak, REDUCED
ATC SCM50a with SL upgrades near mint
ATC SCM40, boxed
B&W CM9, excellent boxed
Castle Harlech, vgc boxed
Dali Zensor 7, excellent boxed
Dynaudio Contour 1.8, excellent boxed
Dynaudio Audience 52 in cherry
Dynaudio 42C centre
Focal Aria 948, excellent in gloss black
Focal Electra 1028, mint boxed
Gallo A’Diva Micros plus 150 Sub
Hyperion 938, excellent boxed
Kef Reference 205/2, walnut nr mint
Kef X300A Active monitors
Kef R300 excellent boxed
Kef Q500 walnut nr mint
Kinergetics Research SW800 Subs and amplifier
Kudos C20 in walnut
Kudos X2, rosenut
Magneplanar MG1.7 mint boxed
Martin Logan Quest, fair cosmetics, superb sound
Martin Logan Prodigy, excellent
Martin Logan Ethos, near mint boxed
Monitor Audio Silver 8, nr mint boxed
Monitor Audio Silver 6, nr mint boxed
Monitor Radius range. various ex demo
Monopulse 42a, good condition boxed
NEAT Motive 3, excellent in black
PMC Twenty 24, walnut
PMC Twenty 24, oak
PMC Twenty 23,oak
PMC Twenty 22, walnut
PMC Twenty 21, walnut
Proac Studio 118 excellent boxed
Proac D20r, excellent boxed, ex dealer demo
Quad ESL57, vgc
Quad 22L vgc boxed
Quad 25L Rosewood, boxed
REL S3, black, excellent
Sonus Faber Concerto Home
Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 with matching stands
Sonus Faber Venere Centre channel excellent
Spendor D1, excellent boxed
Spendor BC1, near mint boxed
Tannoy DC8T, excellent boxed with custom plinths
Tannoy Albury, excellent with serviced drivers
Tannoy 3LZ, vgc, original components
Totem Mite in black, ex dealer demo
Usher Mini Dancer 2, excellent boxed
Usher Mini Dancer 1, excellent boxed
Usher S520, excellent boxed
Usher N Series. Various
Usher X718, vgc boxed
Veritas H3 (Lowthers) gloss black, 100db,
Wilson Benesch Actor
Special system deals
Arcam AVR 450 and UDP411 vgc
Denon AVC A1SR and DVD A1
Denon AVR X4100 and DBT3313 combo
Devialet 400 & Magneplanar MG3.7i speakers
Devialet 200 & Magneplanar MG1.7 speakers
Naim Muso nr mint boxed
Scansonic USB100 Turntable & Active Speakers
Accessories/Cables
Audeze EL8 Open back headphones
Audeze EL8 Closed back headphones
Audeze LCD 3 headphones,
Chord Company Indigo Plus 1m XLR
Elemental Audio speaker stands
Grado headphones many models
Grado SR325is, excellent boxed
Kondo KSL Vc 2m Din to phono
Kondo KSL SPc 3m pair speaker cable
Lehmann Linear, near mint boxed
M2Tech Harley headphone amplifier
Naim HiLine and Powerline both available used
Naim Headline Headphone amplifier
Oppo HA1 Headphone Amp excellent
Oppo HA2 Headphone Amp excellent
Quad PA One
Sennheiser HD800s excellent boxed
Stax 404/006 system
Teddy Pardo Teddy Supercap
Van den Hul D102 mk3, selection
new
used
used
used
used
used
used
used
used
used
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new
new
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1699
5999
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199
1799
2749
379
1799
3999
549
649
Call
999
1199
699
1399
999
3399
3399
799
699
Call
749
349
2299
2199
1699
1649
1099
799
1849
599
399
599
699
799
999
399
999
499
1799
1199
999
379
1999
1299
229
Call
599
2399
999
used
used
used
used
used
x/d
new
1199
749
749
9979
5249
799
349
x/d
x/d
x/d
used
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used
used
used
used
used
from
used
x/d
used
used
used
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used
used
449
449
999
549
449
Call
199
Call
449
399
Call
299
279
899
199
799
1099
Call
899
Call
Tel: 01642 267012 or 0845 6019390 Email: [email protected]
Dealer Directory
IAN HARRISON HI FI
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Partridge Green, West Sussex
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we’ve moved!
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28/04/2017
31/03/2017 10:22
10:22
W E A R E D E L I G H T E D TO A N N O U N C E T H AT
S T U D I O AV A R E N O W S TOC K I S T S O F
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LAST WORD
OFF THE
LEASH!
KEN KESSLER
ER TE
TELLS
ELLS IT LIKE IT IS...
.
Ken Kessler sets off to
explore Record Store Day,
only to find the scalpers
have beaten him to it...
aving reached that age where
‘downsizing’ is essential, I have
reduced my record and CD buying,
yet I still need to break incorrigibly
bad collector habits. Despite little willpower,
I am now more selective and never buy
reissues of stuff I already own unless they are
loaded with new material. With this in mind,
I had no qualms about visiting the local vinyl
emporium on Record Store Day.
Of course, I got there too late for the
lone single I wanted, The Beatles’ ‘Penny
Lane/Strawberry Fields’. My interest in it
was due to this being a unique package of
the 2015 mix made by Giles Martin for the
1 collection, which – admittedly – I already
had on Blu-ray, CD and vinyl. Mea culpa, my
insatiable inner collector spoke. But on this
occasion something had
changed upon hearing
the words ‘Sold out’.
Instead of rushing
home, to log on to find
someone who still had
copies, I said, ‘No big
deal’, bought The Byrds’
and Kevin Ayers’ singles
and left. I was so disoriented that it only
occurred to me as I left the shop that I had
just paid the criminal prices of, respectively,
£11 and £7.50. Had prices climbed
that high? What about those two words
emblazoned on my soul: caveat emptor?
A few days later, not even looking for it,
while trawling Amazon for a book, up came
an offer for the exact same Beatles single I
H
MOUTH SHUT
had missed. The algorithms in my Amazon
account know me too well (though I wish
they’d stop suggesting I would ever want any
Paul Weller recordings).
Amazon found a vendor with a copy of
the new edition of ‘Penny Lane’ for sale and
curiosity got the better of me. Clearly, as
with concert tickets, the scalpers were out in
force on Record Store Day. They gobbled up
the good stuff, and £35 was now the asking
price. My faith in people remained unshaken:
weak-willed record collectors are marks as
susceptible to vinyl speculators as harried
moms and dads are to shills at carnival.
MINOR IRRITANT
As a militant capitalist, I shouldn’t carp, and I
am ashamed of myself for even thinking such
thoughts: that scalpers
should be drawn and
quartered. But their
actions do add a frisson
of negativity to what is
supposed to be a pureof-heart celebration
of music, independent
record stores, vinyl and
all else we hold dear, as physical media tries
to survive the streaming juggernaut.
Still, that was a minor irritant. I don’t need
The Beatles single. Few are the necessities
beyond Maslow’s hierarchy, and a record
library isn’t one of them. But something else
occurred to me. Record Store Day 2017,
at least in my neck of the woods, was an
audiophile-free zone, as discussed in the June
‘Weak-willed
record collectors
are now marks to
vinyl speculators’
Sep Issue
on sale4AUG
th
138 | www.hifinews.co.uk | AUGUST 2017
issue. My local vinyl vendor is not one of ‘us’,
but even so, I had hoped the event would
attract the Last Remaining Audiophiles, or
LRAs for short. And why not? The website
had Rega sponsorship all over it.
It’s not like there wasn’t plenty to attract
LRAs. Despite a total absence of ‘audiophile’
LPs from labels such as Mobile Fidelity,
Analogue Productions, Impex or Audio
Fidelity, still the place was filled with albums
from ‘normal’ and indie labels boasting that
their pressings were made of ‘180g vinyl!’.
EXCLUSIVE TESTS:
î Audio Research Foundation DAC9
î Perpetuum Ebner PE 4040 turntable
î T+A MP 3100 HV media player
î Piega Coaxial 311 standmount loudspeakers
î AudioQuest Niagara 7000 mains conditioner
It made me wonder about a number of
things. Here were customers of assorted
ages, cultural affiliations, income levels, ad
infinitum, and I wondered if any of them
knew why ‘180g vinyl’ was something about
which to crow. More concerns: here were
students shelling out £30 for Elastica LPs.
What were they playing them on? How
many of these still-pristine limited editions,
on thick, virgin vinyl, would suffer the fate
of £59 USB record players with massive
tonearms tracking at 5g?
Those who know me won’t believe
this, but I kept my mouth shut. I stifled
any journalistic or evangelistic tendency
to ask/harangue the shoppers about their
knowledge of audio. Not my place to do so.
I was only in the store for ten minutes, the
store was busy but not heaving, the queue
from 5am having thinned out by the time I
arrived – around 11am.
Instead, I looked around, saw some
items of interest, heard a few snatches
of conversation, chatted briefly with the
owner and left. What was I expecting? Was
I hoping to hear exchanges about VTA,
impedance and stylus profiles?
Instead, I was reminded of Kevin
Brownlow’s introduction to The Parade’s
Gone By, explaining how he found the title
of his book on silent movies. One of his
interviewees from the silent movie era said,
‘I tried to tell them that things weren’t like
that in the ’20s, but they wouldn’t listen.
I remember the assistant, a young guy. He
said to me, “Look, why don’t you go away?
Times have changed. You’re an old man. The
parade’s gone by…”’
Harsh… but true.
PLUS:
î Vintage Review: Sony PS-X4 turntable
î Show Blog: We visit Hong Kong’s AV Expo
î Classical Companion: Sir Colin Davies, conductor
î From The Vault: We crack open HFN’s archive
î Vinyl Icons: The Stooges’ Fun House
W CT
NE DU H
O NC
PR AU
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er
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The Analog Cell is the heart of the M700’s musicality, where richly
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lifetime spent in the research and development of
components that always rise to the occasion, that
always respect the demands of the music and that
convey realism from the most subtle of nuances to
the most thunderous of crescendos.
Constraints are not allowed to affect the dynamics.
No loudspeaker poses a threat. Progression
amplifiers deliver sound that’s visceral, tactile and
authentic. And if you know and love your music,
“Progression” also describes a sequence of chords,
and in the case of rock and blued in particular, “power
chords”. Progression thus defines, in so many ways,
the very foundations of music in all its forms.
absolute sounds ltd.
International Distributors & Consultants of Specialised Hi-End Audio & Video Systems
58 Durham Road, London, SW20 0T W
T: +44 (0)20 89 71 39 09
W: www.absolut esounds.com E : [email protected] esounds.com
For Your Nearest Dealer Please Visit The Absolute Sounds Website
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