Page 1

REVIEWED

Music Hall mmf 1.5 Turntable

Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary Loudspeakers

Richter Thor 10.6 Subwoofer

Dynaudio Special Forty Loudspeakers

Micromega M-100 Int. Amp/DAC/Streamer

Nagra CDP CD Player

B&W 800 D3

May/June 2018 $9.99 aushifi.com

Loudspeakers

ON TEST

B &W 800 D3 B&W has slashed the «ÀˆViœvˆÌÃy>}ň«“œ`it

INTERVIEW

9 771442 125002

03

Sound Gallery celebrates its 2nd anniversary John Ong reveals why…


TORUS POWER isolation transformers dramatically improve the performance of all audio and video systems. It’s like having a clean power source directly adjacent to the plugged-in components. Audio equipment comes alive – with more dynamics, improved imaging, and cleaner, enhanced bass. Video is crisper, with darker blacks, and brighter colours. That’s why TORUS POWER is the consistent choice of knowledgeable audiophiles, home theatre enthusiasts and custom electronic system integrators.

NOW AVAILABLE IN AUSTRALIA

AVR2 Series The most feature-rich models in the Torus Power range, with enhanced Ethernet control and monitoring, individual outlet control, scheduling, and auto reboot after a power failure. • extra heavy-duty medical-grade outlets custom manufactured by Hubbell • individually addressable outlet zones • event scheduling • IP addressable with built-in web browser interface • remote/cloud-based monitoring • JEYPXRSXMƤGEXMSRF]IQEMP • password protection • RS-232 for Crestron and other control

TORUS POWER. 8LI[SVPHƅWƼRIWXGPIERTS[IVWSYVGIJSV EYHMSZMHISERHGSRXVSPW]WXIQW

Network Audio Visual Pty Ltd

02 9949 9349

sales@networkav.com.au

www.networkav.com


DESIGN + PERFORMANCE

EDITOR’S LEAD IN

HEARING DAMAGE ON THE RISE

I

have been rather intrigued by a motor vehicle advertisement that’s currently in high rotation on television which shows a car warning its driver that a pedestrian has stepped out in front of said vehicle, allowing the driver to apply the brakes and prevent an accident. I honestly can’t remember what type of car it is at the moment that I am writing this, and I am so close to dead-

line that I won’t have the opportunity to watch enough television to see the advert again so I can make a note of the make of the car in time to include it in this editorial… but the fact that I can’t remember tells you something about the effectiveness of television advertising, in that not only can’t I remember the model of the car, but I can’t even remember the make. (Then again, it might just be telling you something about my shot-term memory!) What intrigued me about the ad is that the person who steps out in front of the car is wearing headphones, the passenger in the car is wearing headphones… and in fact every single person in the commercial is wearing headphones except for the driver… and in my experience as a commuting motorcyclist, most drivers these days are wearing either headphones or earphones as well. I guess that since wearing headphones (or earphones) whilst driving is actually illegal, they wouldn’t have been able to get the commercial to air if the driver had been wearing a pair.) This advert certainly has a ring of truth about it to me, because the large majority of people I see on the street in commercial suburbs—on week-days at least—are wearing headphones. While this is certainly great news for the audio industry (particularly those companies which manufacture headphones, which seems to be all of them these days) it’s not so great news for the people wearing those headphones, because many of them will be listening at volume levels that will result in either shortterm or permanent damage to their hearing. When I say ‘many’ listeners, I mean around one in every ten. National Acoustic Laboratories recently measured the headphone playback volume levels most often used by more than 3,500 regular headphone users and found that just over ten percent of them were listening at levels that have been proved to result in hearing damage. At present, statistics show that around 15 per cent of Australians will experience some form of hearing loss in their life. National Acoustics Labs estimates that as a result of the increase in popularity of using headphones, this figure will increase to 25 per cent by 2050. Hearing damage isn’t only about losing high frequencies, or diminished acuity; it can also mean tinnitus, which causes sufferers to constantly hear ringing or buzzing sounds in their ears for the rest of their life. And like hearing loss itself, tinnitus is incurable. The take-away here is to ensure that you do not to listen to your headphones at sound pressure levels that could result in hearing damage, which based on current research into hearing loss, means levels of 85dBSPL or more. But how are you supposed to be able to establish if you’re listening to your music at sound pressure levels that are too high? If you use headphones, a rough and ready method is to load an SPL app onto your mobile phone, and then hold one of your headphones’

Embodying the spirit of the Jamo brand, STUDIO 8 series delivers contemporary design, high performance, and balanced, natural sound. In traditional bookshelf and floorstanding speakers and with optional Dolby Atmos ® integration. Home theatre and music systems never looked so good. jamo.com.au

ear-cups as close as possible to your phone’s microphone and measure the volume level using the app. If you use earbuds, I don’t even have a rough and ready method, so you’ll need to watch this space, because we’re working on a solution for you.

greg borrowman

DANISH SOUND DESIGN


May/June 2018, Vol. 49 No. 3 Editor: Greg Borrowman hifi@nextmedia.com.au Art Director: Kristian Hagen

CONTENTS AUSTRALIAN HI-FI MAGAZINE VOLUME 49 NUMBER 3 – MAY/JUNE 2018

Managing Editor: Jez Ford Photography: Oliver Delprado Contributors: Caroline Cannon, Lesley Swan, Jutta Dziwnik, Nada Grkinic, Steve Holding, Madeleine Ella, John Shand, Jez Ford, Karyn Brown, Val Barbour, Whendi Walkley, Tina White. Advertising Sales: Lewis Preece 0434 439 032 Advertising Liaison: Diane Preece dpreece@nextmedia.com.au Divisional Manager & National Sales Manager: Jim Preece 0400 808 900 Production Manager: Peter Ryman Circulation Director: Carole Jones Australian Hi-Fi Subscriptions Phone: 1300 361 146 or +61 2 9901 6111 Locked Bag 3355, St Leonards, NSW, 1590 Subscribe online: www.mymagazines.com.au

Level 6, Building A, 207 Pacific Highway, St Leonards, NSW, 2065. (Locked Bag 5555, St Leonards, NSW, 1590) Telephone (02) 9901 6100 Fax (02) 9901 6166 www.nextmedia.com.au Chief Executive Officer: David Gardiner

24 HARBETH 30.2 ANNIVERSARY LOUDSPEAKERS

Commercial Director: Bruce Duncan Australian Hi-Fi Magazine is published by nextmedia Pty Ltd ABN: 84 128 805 970, Level 6, Building A, 207 Pacific Highway, St Leonards, NSW, 2065. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the prior permission of the publisher. Printed by Bluestar WEB Sydney, distributed in Australia and NZ by Gordon & Gotch. Information contained in this magazine, whether in editorial matter or in feature articles or in advertisements or otherwise, including in particular, but not limited to, technical information, is published on the basis that neither the publisher nor distributors assume or accept any responsibility or liability in respect of its correctness. Neither the Proprietor nor the Editor nor any member of the staff of this magazine or its distribution agents accepts or assumes liability or responsibility for any loss or damage resulting from the incorrectness of such information. The submission of product or material for editorial inclusion in this publication signifies acceptance of the abovementioned conditions. Editorial Contributions. The publisher assumes no responsibility for return or safety of manuscripts, artwork, photographs, goods or any other matter supplied to this magazine. The design and contents of Australian Hi-Fi are copyright and must not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior permission, in writing, from the publisher. nextmedia Pty Ltd does not carry insurance cover on goods or other material supplied to it for editorial review, advertising or any other purpose, and does not accept liability for such goods. We require therefore that equipment or material supplied to this company be covered by an extension of your own insurance policy for the period the item/s may be in transit to us, in our possession, and in transit back to your warehouse. nextmedia Pty Ltd has an excellent record of maintaining equipment security and ensuring safe return of equipment and other material in good condition and will continue to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to avoid accidental damage or loss or theft of goods or other material, but we advise that the onus of insurance rests with the equipment’s owner and supplier. Equipment Reviews are based on laboratory measurements and controlled listening tests. The choice of equipment to be tested rests with the Editor of Australian Hi-Fi. Manufacturers and distributors are not permitted to read reviews in advance of publication and no review or portion thereof, no matter how small, may be reproduced for any purpose or in any form without written permission from the publisher. All equipment reviews should be construed as applying to the specific samples tested—neither Australian Hi-Fi nor its technical consultants assume responsibility for product performance, quality or applicability. Neither the editor, the publisher, nor any of its employees or agents accepts responsibility for the opinions expressed by contributors. Readers are reminded that commercially available recordings (DVDs, CDs etc) and radio/TV broadcasts and Internet streams are usually subject to copyright. Whilst articles and advertisements concerned with recording and recording techniques may appear in Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, readers should not construe this as authorising or inciting them to make recordings of copyright material. In all cases we recommend that you contact the manufacturer and/or supplier of the recording to request permission to record the material.

Harbeth seems to be stringing out its 40th Anniversary model launches, but when they’re as ǷɁɁƞŘʊǜǒƬʯ̋ƖʹƙŘȭƞǞȭǔʊǒƬƞ in that unique veneer, who’s about to complain?

EQUIPMENT REVIEWS

16 MUSIC HALL MMF 1.5 TURNTABLE

40 MICROMEGA M-100 INT. AMP/DAC/STREAMER

A superb turntable whose performance belies its price—it’s an exceptional performer and looks exceptionally good into the bargain.

ďǒƬ˿ ƞɁ ǜǒǔȭǷʊ ƞǔǏƬʁƬȭǜǚ˿ ǔȭ hʁŘȭƋƬƙ Řȭƞ ǔnj you ever needed any proof, you need look no further than Micromega’s M-100, because it’s ƋɁȧɡǚƬǜƬǚ˿ƞǔǏƬʁƬȭǜǔȭnjɁʁȧŘȭƞǔȭnjˁȭƋǜǔɁȭƿ

30 RICHTER THOR 10.6 SUBWOOFER

44 NAGRA CDP CD PLAYER

Big is bad, ports are poxy and vinyl sucks. Research into what consumers really want is what informed the design of Richter’s latest and greatest subwoofer…

We review a state-of-the-art CD player, built by hand in Switzerland, that delivers superb performance, but has more than its fair share of Swiss quirks!

36 DYNAUDIO SPECIAL FORTY LOUDSPEAKERS

58 B&W 800 D3 LOUDSPEAKERS

Their dynamics, their tone and their imaging are the highest on their long list of strengths, says reviewer Jez Ford. And how thrilling was the speed of the bass delivery?

If you haven’t yet experienced the gloriously spine-tingling high-frequency sound of B&W’s famous diamond tweeter, then there’s no better place to start than with the new 800 D3. ÀǔƋʁɁȧƬǷŘÀȊɍ̋̋“ȭǜƬǷʁŘǜƬƞÄȧɡǚǔǞƬʁ

Privacy Policy. We value the integrity of your personal information. If you provide personal information through your participation in any competitions, surveys or offers featured in this issue of Australian Hi-Fi, this will be used to provide the products or services that you have requested and to improve the content of our magazines. Your details may be provided to third parties who assist us in this purpose. In the event of organisations providing prizes or offers to our readers, we may pass your details on to them. From time to time, we may use the information you provide us to inform you of other products, services and events our company has to offer. We may also give your information to other organisations which may use it to inform you about their products, services and events, unless you tell us not to do so. You are welcome to access the information that we hold about you by getting in touch with our Privacy Officer, who can be contacted at nextmedia Pty Ltd. She’s in Locked Bag 5555, St Leonards, NSW 1590.

4

Australian Hi-Fi

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


Audio Analogue AA-Phono (see page 10)

52 SOUND GALLERY ÀƬǚŽɁˁʁȭƬɻʊȭƬ˹ƬʊǜǒǔȊǞʊǜɁʁƬǔʊ also one of its most upmarket stores, ŘȭƞɁȭƬ˹ǒƬʁƬ˿ɁˁƋŘȭǞȭƞŽʁŘȭƞʊ that are not available anywhere else in Australia. And there’s a very good reason for that.

58 HIGH-END REVIEW Almost all high-end loudspeaker manufacturers depend on specialist driver manufacturers to build their drivers for them… which why many of them sound similar. But when you build all your own drivers, you can ƋʁƬŘǜƬŘǜʁˁǚ˿ƞǔǏƬʁƬȭǜʊɁˁȭƞNJ

DEPARTMENTS

FEATURES

6 AUDIO NEWS

82 OBITUARY John Sunier wrote the Super Fidelity column for Australian Hi-Fi Magazine for more than 20 years, but he also authored several books, created a world-famous website and was a famous broadcaster…

3 EDITOR’S LEAD-IN The number of Australians with music-induced hearing damage is on the rise, with National Acoustics Laboratories predicting that if things ƞɁȭɻǜƋǒŘȭǷƬƙǔǜ˹ǔǚǚŘǏƬƋǜɁȭƬǔȭnjɁˁʁÄˁʊǜʁŘǚǔŘȭʊ by the year 2049.

66 ROCK ON ‘Who cast John Legend as Christ in this version of Rice and Webber’s classic musical Jesus Christ Superstar?’, asks an incredulous Jez Ford. But he loves the latest Dylan re-release on Mo-Fi vinyl…

REVIEWED

John Ong has been an integral part of the Melbourne audio scene for more than twenty years, ŘƋʁɁʊʊ ǜǒƬ ǞƬǚƞ Ɂnj ʁƬǜŘǔǚǔȭǷƙ ʁƬʊƬŘʁƋǒƙ ƞƬʊǔǷȭƙ manufacturing, and now retailing (again!)…

MUSIC

70 BLU-RAY REVIEWS If you’ve already heard of Alter Bridge, you’re ŘǒƬŘƞɁnj•ƬǏÄɡǜƬʁƙŽˁǜǔȭnjɁʁŘǜʁƬŘǜƙŘȭƞǔnj˿ɁˁɻʁƬ a fan of Barbra Streisand you won’t want to miss this blast from the past.

Music Hall mmf 1.5 Turntable

Harbeth 30 2 Anniversary Loudspeakers

Richter Thor 10.6 Subwoofer

Dynaudio Special Forty Micromega M-100 Int. Amp/DAC/Streamer

Nagra CDP CD Player

B&W 800 D3

May June 2018 $9 99 aushifi com

68 JAZZ TRACK This month, John Shand rustles up an eclectic half-dozen new releases, one of which was inspired by Donald Trump, whilst another was inspired by WA’s Mungo National Park. That’s jazz for you!

6 52 70 72 70 3 51 68 73 58 52 82 66 52 50 4

Loudspeakers

Loudspeakers

ON TEST

B &W 800 D3 B&W has slashed the «ÀˆVi œv ˆÌà y>}ň« “œ`it

INTERVIEW

Sound Gallery celebrates its second anniversary

03

52 INTERVIEW

9 771442 125002

New releases including the Perreaux 255i, Open Audio Designs CP1 & UF1, Audio Research Ref 160M, Denon AVR-X8500H, Audio Analogue AAPhono, Audio-Technica AT-LP7, DS Audio ST-50, Audioquest Beetle, BlueSound, Clearaudio Tracer, Exposure XM9, Chord Qutest, Devialet Phantom, Astell&Kern AK70MkII, Musical Fidelity M6S, and Focal Listen Wireless.

Audio News Behind The Scenes Blu-Ray Reviews Dealer Directory DVD Reviews Editor’s Lead-In Esoterica Jazz Track Hi-Fi Marketplace High End Interview Obituary Rock On Shop Talk SoundSites Subscriptions

John Ong reveals why…

OUR FRONT COVER

Taking pride of place on this issue’s front cover is a B&W 800 D3 Loudspeaker. For a full review and laboratory test of a pair of 800 D3s, turn to page 58.

Australian Hi-Fi

5


PERREAUX | OPEN AUDIO DESIGNS

PERREAUX 255i INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER Perreaux has released a new integrated amplifier, the 255i, which it says is the most powerful Class-AB integrated amplifier it has ever built, being rated at 250-watts continuous per channel into 8Ω and 500-watts continuous per channel into 4Ω. The new Perreaux 255i can optionally be fitted with a 32-bit/384kHz DAC and a phono preamplifier which can accommodate both moving-magnet (MM) and moving-coil (MC) cartridges. The 255i has three separate power transformers and four independent power supplies. According to Martin van Rooyen of Perreaux: ‘The 255i is designed to handle difficult speaker loads. Its MOSFET output stage is capable of continuously delivering a genuine 360-watts into an 8Ω load and 530-watts into 4Ω, so it will drive difficult speakers with ease, producing controlled, quality audio.’ On the rear panel, the 255i has one balanced line-level input (via XLR) and four unbalanced line-level inputs (via RCA). The front panel includes a line-level auxiliary input via 3.5mm socket and a headphone output via 6.5mm socket. You can also bypass the preamplifier section of the 255i and connect directly to the power amplifier via an ‘Amp In’ pair of RCA sockets. The optional DAC/Phono module uses the top-of-the-line ESS Technology ES9038PRO Sabre DAC and has two coaxial digital inputs, two optical inputs and a USB input. The coaxial and optical inputs can handle up to 32-bit/192kHz, while the USB input goes up to 32-bit/384kHz and also handles DSD 64, 128, and 256. This new DAC/ Phono module can also be factory retrofitted to the Perreaux 150i and 250i integrated amplifiers as an upgrade. All functions on the 255i are controlled by a microprocessor, accessed via front-panel pushbuttons and rotary encoder. The amplifier’s operational status is clearly shown via a large LCD display. Volume and balance is done via microprocessor-controlled resistor banks, so there are no noisy potentiometers in the signal path. The microprocessor also monitors the amplifier’s output stage to protect it against mains power in-rush, over-current, over-temperature, d.c. offset, internal a.c. supply variations and d.c. at the output. ‘The protection is non-invasive and does not degrade the signal path’, said van Rooyen. ‘You really need to audition this amplifier to appreciate its innate sound quality,’ said Mark Gusew of BMC Wholesale, which distributes Perreaux in Australia. ‘The amount of top-to-bottom control over the speaker is remarkable—with inherent speed and dynamics. This is one of the most musical amplifiers you will ever hear!’ The Perreaux 255i retails for $7,995, with the optional DAC/Phono upgrade at additional cost, and is available now.

For further information, please contact BMC Wholesale on (03) 8683 9910 or visit the website at www.bmcw.com.au

OAD RELEASES FIRST AMPLIFIERS OAD (Open Audio Designs) has released its first two amplifiers, the CP1 control preamplifier and UF1 power amplifier. Although Open Audio Designs is a new company, the man behind it, Melbourne electronics designer Jon DeSensi, will be well-known to Australian audiophiles, having previously founded Music Labs Australia. ‘OAD is a performanceoriented company that strives to advance state-of-the-art music reproduction at all times,’ said DeSensi. ‘Driven by genuine advances in technology and performance, the OAD brand uses “ultrafidelity” as both its trademark and hallmark, as this underpins everything that we do.’ The first two products available from OAD are the CP1 control preamplifier and UF1 power amplifier. The CP1 has an 11cm colour TFT LCD full colour display with a touch capability, so that all features of the CP1 are controlled from the display, effectively eliminating the need for mechanical potentiometers and switches. ‘Unlike its mechanical counterpart, an electronic touch display also has the advantage of allowing the shortest possible signal path from inputs to outputs, thus ensuring the integrity of the audio signal,’ DeSensi told Australian Hi-Fi Magazine. For those who’d prefer to control the CP1 from the comfort of their couch, it comes with a remote control that duplicates all the functions of the touch display, including input switching, volume control, mute and standby modes. The OAD SP1 has eight discrete power supplies, four for each channel, and input selection is via high-quality gold-plated Swiss-made relays. Once you’ve selected the input you want, all the other inputs are isolated. Volume and balance control is all achieved via a resistor ladder that uses laser cut precision, low-noise and zero-induction resistors. OAD rates the power output of the UF1 power amplifier at 200-watts per channel, both channels driven into 8 ohms. The output stage is comprised of Thermaltrak bipolar transistors that enable it to have an ultra-wide bandwidth coupled with a high-current capability. ‘Thanks to the UF1’s unique technology, including the latest in cutting-edge bipolar transistors, the UF1 offers superb sound characteristics as well as incredible power and low level detail,’ said Rom Beyerle of Sonic Purity, which was the first retailer in Australia to demonstrate the new amplifiers. ‘An amplifier must be able to cope gracefully with impedance dips to 4 ohms and lower. The transistors used in the UF1 are in a different class from conventional transistors in that the current gain is completely maintained over the full power bandwidth.’ Available now, the Open Audio Designs Ultrafidelity CP1 Control Amp sells for $6,500 (RRP), while the Open Audio Designs UF1 Power Amplifier sells for $6,300 (RRP).

For more information, contact Sonic Purity on (04) 0950 4805 or at SonicPurity.com.au. You can also contact Pure Music Group at www.puremusicgroup.com or Open Audio Designs at www.openaudiodesigns.com

6

Australian Hi-Fi

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


THE HI–FI HEADLINES NEWSLETTER No.237

4

5

There is a lot happening at Len Wallis Audio at the moment, with both new product releases and with the continuing flurry of price adjustments... 1 STAX, who we believe manufacture the finest headphones on the market, turns 80 this year. To celebrate they have released a very limited anniversary model based on the existing SRS-3100 system. They have upgraded the specifications of the SR-L300 Earspeaker (pictured) to approximate the performance of the SR-L700. The changes to the SRM-252S driver are mostly cosmetic. There are only 13 of these systems available for Australia, so if you have an interest it would be wise to act now. The system sells for $2,698.

2 MARANTZ have released a new amplifier (PM8006) and a matching CD/ Streamer (ND8006). The amplifier is an update of the very successful PM8005.

3

It is still rated at 70 watts RMS/channel, and sells for $2,650. The ND8006 is an excellent solution for today’s market. It incorporates a high quality CD player, along with streaming facilities for on-line and stored content. It has AirPlay, Bluetooth, Internet Radio and is compatible with Spotify, Amazon, TIDAL and Deezer among others. It has HEOS multi-room technology on board allowing you to add additional wireless speakers around your home as well. It can also be used as a quality DAC. At $1,990 this unit has a lot to offer. 3 We now have the AVID Acutus SP turntable on display. We have been singing the praises of AVID turntables for a long time now, but this is the first time that we have shown their flagship model. This is fitted with an SME 309 tonearm, and sells for a little over $23,000.

4 The other exciting new product is the MUSICAL FIDELITY M6s DAC. This is a 32bit/768kHz Digital to Analogue Converter that sells for $2,699. Superb performance and great value. Musical Fidelity were one of the pioneers of

6

2

1

Digital to Analogue componentry, releasing the world’s first high-end DAC, the Digilog, in 1987. Their expertise shows in this uni. 5 The wave of price readjustments continues – the most dramatic being from PANASONIC. Their TH77EZ1000 77” OLED TV is without doubt one of the finest TV screens ever produced – but at $34,000 sales were very limited. Panasonic have just repositioned this at $19,995. If you are considering a very high performance large screen TV, drop in and have a look – you will not be disappointed.

6 BLUESOUND has been steadily gaining a reputation as one of the best wireless multi-room streaming systems on the market – they have also recently repositioned (reduced) their prices to bring them closer to parity with overseas markets (joining the likes of Krell, Musical Fidelity and Stax). With the availability of higher resolution streaming now available from companies like TIDAL the demand for higher performance systems is growing, and this is where Bluesound steps up.

64 Burns Bay Road, Lane Cove, NSW 2066 (02) 9427 6755 sales@lenwallisaudio.com.au

www.lenwallisaudio.com.au


AUDIO RESEARCH | DENON

AUDIO RESEARCH REFERENCE 160M Audio Research has released its Reference 160M Vacuum Tube Monaural power amplifier. It uses a new audio topology for Audio Research, with fewer and better components in the signal-path than in previous designs, switchable ultralinear/triode operation, proprietary auto-bias, and output tube monitoring and protection. ‘The array of features fitted to the new Ref 160M has never been offered before in any Audio Research amplifier,’ said Philip Sawyer, of Synergy Audio Visual, which distributes Audio Research in Australia. ‘The designers at Audio Research have created a new style that features a transparent faceplate that allows you to see the KT150 vacuum tubes while integrated into that faceplate is an innovative power meter whose outputlevel markings are illuminated by hidden LEDs.’ The four KT150 power tubes are automatically and continuously biased using Audio Research’s proprietary auto-bias circuit, which is flexible enough to allow you to substitute KT88 or KT120 valves. The driver tubes are 6H30s. The power supply uses solid-state power regulation. ‘The best circuit path is a short path,’ says Sawyer, ‘so Audio Research engineers created a new audio circuit topology with the shortest signal path and the fewest components, all of which are incorporated on a special four-layer circuit board that lowers the noise floor to unprecedented levels.’

DENON AVR-X8500H 13.2-CH AV RECEIVER Denon has released its AVC-X8500H 13.2 channel, 150-watt per channel AV Receiver with support for Amazon Alexa, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro 3D in Australia. The AVR-X8500H uses thirteen custom-made discrete monolithic amplifiers each rated at 150 watts into 8Ω, enabling it to deliver Dolby Atmos or DTS:X without any external amplification. The AVR-X8500H also supports Auro 3D surround sound decoding via firmware update, up to Auro 13.1 channel, three-layered speaker layout including top and height centre channels. It offers full wireless connectivity via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and streaming capabilities with Apple AirPlay and wireless multi-room audio technology. The AVR-X8500H is fully compatible with the latest HDMI connectivity and HDCP 2.2 specifications on all eight HDMI inputs and triple HDMI outputs. The receiver also supports 4K Ultra HD 60Hz video, 4:4:4 Pure Colour subsampling, High Dynamic Range (HDR), 21:9 video, 3D and BT.2020 pass-through support. As such, the AVR-X8500H is prepared for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc players, set-top boxes and other 4K Ultra HD sources. Additionally, it can support legacy systems by upscaling standard and high definition analog and digital video content to 4K Ultra HD. Dolby Vision, eARC

8

Australian Hi-Fi

‘The result is a new benchmark in musicality in every criterion of sound quality,’ Sawyer told Australian Hi-Fi Magazine. The Ref 160M is rated at 140-watts continuous, with less than 1.0% THD at rated output and less than 0.04% THD at 1 watt. The frequency response is 0.5Hz to 110kHz –3dB and the power bandwidth is 5Hz to 70kHz –3dB. Available in silver and black finishes, the Audio Research Reference M 160 monobloc power amplifiers will retail for $49,990 per pair.

For more information, contact Synergy Audio Visual on (03) 9459 7474 or at www.synergyaudio.com

(Enhanced Audio Return Channel) and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) compatibility are also supported. eARC will be enabled via firmware update in 2018. The AVR-X8500H also comes with the full Audyssey Platinum suite of DSP algorithms including MultEQ XT32 automatic room acoustic correction, which can analyse each speaker’s output at up to eight measurement locations and generate precision digital filters to optimise each channel for the correct frequency and time domain response. Also included is the MultEQ Editor App that allows users to view and customise the sound to address specific problems in the room, and tailor the sound to personal preferences. The AVR-X8500H receiver is not being mass-produced, but is instead being hand-built in Japan in small batches and is available in Australia now for $5,999 (RRP).

For further information, please contact Qualii on 1800 242 426 or visit the website at www.qualii.com.au

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


The

GLOBAL

TECHNOLOGY AWARDS Celebrating the best life-enhancing, cutting-edge consumer products

HI-FI

HOME THEATRE AUDIO

HOME THEATRE VIDEO & DISPLAY

IN-CAR

MOBILE

PHOTOGRAPHY

The European Imaging and Sound Association is the unique collaboration of 55 member magazines and websites from 25 countries, specialising in all aspects of consumer electronics from mobile devices, home theatre display and audio products, photography, hi-fi and in-car entertainment. Now truly international with members in Australia and the USA, and still growing, the EISA Awards and official logo are your guide to the best in global tech!

TESTED BY THE EXPERTS Q WWW.EISA.EU


AUDIO ANALOGUE | AUDIO-TECHNICA

AUDIO ANALOGUE AAPHONO PHONO STAGE Italian high-end hi-fi manufacturer Audio Analogue has released the second product in its ‘PureAA’ line, the AAphono… which is, obviously, a phono stage! ‘Audio Analogue’s PureAA line draws key ideas from its Anniversary amps, released to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary, but aims to apply them in a slightly different way,’ said Boris Granovsky, of | Absolute HiEnd, which distributes Audio Analogue in Australia. ‘Whereas the Anniversary amplifiers are totally minimalist, models in the PureAA line have loads of features for music lovers who need a wider range of functions and connections in a single product.’ The Audio Analogue AAphono accommodates both movingmagnet and moving-coil cartridges, offering a selection of different gain and loading options for MC cartridges as well as a range of input capacitance and resistance options for MM cartridges. ‘Selecting options is as simple as pressing a button,’ said Granovsky. ‘And any adjustments you make are saved and will be remembered if the unit is switched off or even if it’s disconnected.’ The AAphono’s circuitry includes three toroidal transformers: one for each channel plus one for the control circuitry. The amplification is split between two separate gain stages with an infrasonic filter placed between. Audio Analogue specs the frequency response of the AAPhono at 10Hz–20kHz ±0.25dB, and the signal-to-noise ratios as

89dB (MM) and 72dB (MC). It measures 87×220×372mm (HWD), weighs 5.8kg and sells for $2,800 (RRP).

For more information, contact Absolute Hi End on (04) 8877 7999 or at www.absolutehiend.com

AUDIO-TECHNICA AT-LP7 TURNTABLE Audio-Technica says its new belt-drive AT-LP7 turntable is the best turntable it’s ever made, and it’s now available in Australia, fitted with an Audio-Technical VM520EB phono cartridge, for $1,399 (RRP). The Audio Technica AT-LP7 is belt-driven, fully manual and comes with a J-shaped tonearm fitted with a removable AT-HS10 headshell that is in turn fitted with an Audio-Technica )VM520EB movingmagnet phono cartridge. The VM520EB has a 0.3×0.7 bonded elliptical stylus and Audio-Technica’s ‘dual magnet’ geometry, where the two magnets are positioned to mirror the angles of the groove walls. ‘The AT-LP7 is the finest turntable the company has ever offered,’ said Bob Peet, of Audio-Technica. ‘And thanks to our exclusive Dual Magnet design, where the magnets are precisely positioned to match the left and right channels of the record’s stereo groove walls, the VM520EB

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provides exceptional channel separation, stereo imaging, frequency response and tracking.’ The AT-LP7 has a 20mm thick anti-resonance platter made of polyoxymethylene. The J-shaped tonearm has gimbal bearings and is adjustable for tonearm height. But the AT-LP7 is not just a turntable. It incorporates a phono preamplifier that can be switched in or out of circuit, so you can use your own phono preamplifier if you prefer. If you use the AT-LP7’s internal phono preamplifier, it can be switched for either moving-magnet or moving-coil operation.

For more information, contact Audio-Technica’s Australian distributor, Technical Audio Group (TAG) on (02) 9519 0900 or at www.tag.com.au

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DS AUDIO | AUDIOQUEST

DS AUDIO ST-50 STYLUS CLEANER Japanese optical cartridge pioneer DS Audio has just launched its first audio accessory, the ST-50 stylus cleaner. The ST-50 isn’t your typical stylus cleaner. It comprises a cleaning pad made of the same urethane resin used to filter the air in high-tech clean rooms. To use it, you simply tape your turntable’s platter in place so it can’t rotate, then place the ST-50 onto the turntable platter and lower the tonearm (preferably using a tonearm lifter) so the phono stylus sinks into the gel pad. Do this three times and DS Audio claims your stylus will be completely free of dirt and dust. ‘In the same way that the urethane resin prevents dust from contaminating a clean room by absorbing micro-level dust particles, the ST-50 effortlessly removes particles of dust and dirt from the stylus tip,’ said Boris Granovsky of Absolute Hi End, which distributes DS Audio in Australia. ‘Compared to using brushes and solvents, it is extremely gentle and safe, because no force is being applied to the stylus tip and there is no risk to cartridges that use cement-bonded styli, whose bonding can sometimes be dissolved by certain solvent-based cleaning liquids.’ The ST-50 stylus cleaner presents with a sleek aluminium casing with a nickel-plated finish, with an underside padded with leather so as to present a soft surface for the turntable’s platter. ‘Best of all, the ST-50’s urethane gel pad is washable and re-usable,’ said Granovsky. ‘So to maintain optimal cleaning power, you simply remove the pad from the

casing and rinse it in tap water, then allow it to dry at room temperature for around 30 minutes.’ Available now, the DS Audio ST-50 stylus cleaner sells for $115 (RRP).

For more information, contact Absolute Hi End on (04) 8877 7999 or at www.absolutehiend.com

AUDIOQUEST BEETLE BLUETOOTH DAC Audioquest’s new Beetle is a small portable Bluetooth DAC that also has an optical digital input and a USB input. ‘Audioquest designed the Beetle as a multi-purpose DAC for today’s many different lifestyles,’ said Richard Neale of Amber Technology, which distributes Audioquest in Australia. ‘The obvious application is to use the Beetle’s USB input to enjoy clean, clear, naturally beautiful sound from any laptop or computer, but thanks to the Beetle’s asynchronous Bluetooth technology, you can wirelessly stream music from your mobile device, while surfing the web, checking Facebook updates, or sending email.’ The Beetle’s optical and USB inputs can handle bit-rates up to 24-bit/96kHz. It uses Bluetooth 4.0 A2DP 2.6 which can be upgraded via software provided by Audioquest. If you’re making use of the Beetle’s USB or Bluetooth functionality, you can control the voltage of the analogue output via a 64-bit/bit perfect digital volume controller. Neale said the Audioquest Beetle was also ideal for upgrading the sound quality of TVs with optical audio outputs. ‘Often the only audio output provided on modern HDTVs is an optical one,’ he said, ‘but you could also use the Beetle to provide a major sonic upgrade for media players and gaming consoles.’

i-F H e v l a mV u i m e r P

Available now, the Audioquest Beetle retails for $349.

For further information, please contact Amber Technology on 1800 251 367 or visit the website at www.ambertech.com.au

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BLUESOUND| CLEARAUDIO

BLUESOUND PRICES DROP Convoy International, which distributes Bluesound in Australia, has announced price reductions across the entire Bluesound range, including the award-winning Pulse soundbar and Vault 2. Geoff Matthews, CEO of Convoy said, ‘Today consumers have the ever-competitive market global retail market available to them, and accordingly we have seized the opportunity to ensure our awardwinning Bluesound products remain the preferred

multi-room, high-res audio system, and to introduce our award-winning Pulse Soundbar and unique Vault to even more audio enthusiasts by implementing some cost efficiencies that have resulted in reduced prices.’ Bluesound builds a range of smart music system components that includes audiophile-grade wireless speakers, digital music players that allow you to stream all your music wirelessly to every room in your home including those recorded in high-resolution. It includes high-capacity rippers and storage devices. ‘Bluesound is the future of home audio,’ said Matthews. ‘Discover Bluesound and listen to your favourite tracks, in

CLEARAUDIO TRACER TONEARM German manufacturer Clearaudio has released a new tonearm, the Clearaudio Tracer, taking its tonearm line-up to ten, if you count both its standard radial tonearms, of which the Tracer is one, and its tangential tonearms. ‘When creating the Tracer tonearm, Clearaudio’s design team drew on a number of engineering tricks typically associated with high-end watchmaking,’ said Nigel Ng of Advance Audio. ‘Its design features a high-precision, low-friction tungsten/sapphire bearing and a carbon tonearm tube, which means the design is both extremely rigid and very lightweight, giving a just-right combination of stability and agility.’ Anti-skating force is adjustable using a simple dial, rather than some more complex method, and the azimuth of the aluminium headshell is also easily adjusted. The underslung counterweight reduces the overall centre-of-gravity of the arm, yet tracking force is still a straightforward adjustment. The Tracer tonearm is available with a black carbon arm-tube or a silver carbon arm-tube. Aluminium parts are anodized to match the colour of the arm-tube. ‘The Clearaudio Tracer is an elegantly minimalist design that places particular emphasis on the stable positioning of the phono cartridge above the record surface,’ said Ng.

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every room of your home, with as close to life-like performance as possible… it’s the ultimate choice in hi-res multi-room music streaming.’ New Bluesound pricing is: Bluesound Node 2: $899 Bluesound Powernode 2: $1,399 Bluesound Vault 2: $1,999 Bluesound Pulse Soundbar (black): $1,499 Bluesound Pulse Soundbar (white): $1,599 Bluesound Pulse Flex: $599

For more information, contact Convoy International on (02) 9774 9900 or visit the website at www.convoy.com.au

‘But beneath the seeming simplicity of its sleek design lies a wealth of workmanship and a raft of smart details.’ Sitting only three steps down from Clearaudio’s flagship Universal arm in the company’s range of tonearms, the Clearaudio Tracer sells for $3,495 (RRP).

For further information, please contact Advance Audio on (02) 9561 0799 or visit the website at www.advanceaudio.com.au

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EXPOSURE | MUSICAL FIDELITY | FOCAL

EXPOSURE XM9 MONOBLOC Exposure has added a monobloc power amplifier, the XM9, to its compact XM series. Rated with an output of 80-watts into 8Ω, the Exposure XM9—despite its small size—does not use a switch-mode power supply, but instead features a linear power supply with a large 200VA custom-made toroidal power transformer… and not surprisingly, because Exposure’s chief designer, Tony Brady, is no fan of switchmode power supplies. ‘While most smaller hi-fi components—and indeed a good many larger ones—fall back on switch-mode power supplies… they’re far from audiophile grade and pollute the mains supply with noise,’ he said. ‘I’ve also used only high quality resistors and capacitors in the XM9’s signal path and, in the output stage, Toshiba bipolar output transistors that have been carefully chosen for their superior dynamic performance.’ According to Bill Plantzos, National Sales & Marketing Manager for RVM Australia, which distributes Exposure in Australia, the arrival of the XM9 is further proof that high-performance hi-fi does not need an ‘XXL’ space and budget. ‘Real world hi-fi at “real world” prices is something Exposure has always been particularly strong on and the XM series is no exception, offering smart solutions for music lovers who want superior hi-fi performance,’ he said. ‘The XM Series is the first of Exposure’s ranges to cleverly pack a full quota of high-quality features into a narrow, half-width design and this new XM9 is a perfect partner for the recentlyreleased XM7 preamplifier.’ Available now in black or titanium finish, the Exposure XM9 monoblocs sell for $3,695 per pair.

For further information, please contact RVM Australia on (08) 9417 9944 or visit the website at www.rvm.com.au

MUSICAL FIDELITY M6S DAC/HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER Musical Fidelity has released its M6S DAC/Headphone amplifier, which uses a high-quality 32-bit/768kHz capable ESS Sabre Pro ES9028PRO Hyperstream II engine. According to Musical Fidelity, this enables the M6S to have only 0.0004% total harmonic distortion and a signalto-noise ratio of more than 119dB. Stereo separation is claimed to be better than 120dB across the audio band. The Musical Fidelity M6S has seven inputs (Coaxial×3, Optical×3 and USB) and can accept all data rates up to 32-bit 768kHz and DSD 64/128. All inputs are upsampled to 32/768. The output stage has both fixed and variable single-ended and balanced outputs. Tim Sleath, of Audio Marketing, which distributes Musical Fidelity in Australia, told Australian Hi-Fi Magazine that the M6SDAC’s sound quality gave the instant impression of effortless grace and transparency. ‘There is a sensation of communication from the artists that is hypnotic and compelling,’ he said. ‘It is so musically integrated: the whole sound is sweet and clear; the treble is completely grain free and extended. The bottom end sounds endless with tactile bass dynamics and the soundstaging is excellent: you get a very palpable sense of the recording venue, so that it places performers in a real-time holographic space.’ Available now in black or silver finishes, the Musical Fidelity M6S DAC/Headphone amplifier sells for $2,699 (RRP).

For more information, contact Audio Marketing on (02) 9882 3877 or at www.audiomarketing.com.au

FOCAL IN COLOUR

French manufacturer Focal has announced that its popular ‘Listen Wireless’ headphones are now available in three coloured finishes—Blue, Olive and Purple—in addition to Black (released in 2017). The new coloured versions are called ‘Listen Wireless Chic’ models and retail for $419 (RRP). They’re a closed-back design using Bluetooth 4.1 aptX wireless that have 40mm-diameter drivers with Titanium/Mylar diaphragms.

For more information, contact BusiSot AV on 1300 888 602 or at www.busisot.com.au

Australian Hi-Fi

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CHORD ELECTRONICS | DEVIALET | ASTELL & KERN

CHORD’S QUTEST DAC Chord Electronics’ Qutest DAC, which it claims ‘sets a new technical benchmark for a small, home system digital-to-analogue converter’ is now available in Australia. The Qutest is based on the latest proprietary FPGA technology developed by Rob Watts for Chord Electronics’ Hugo 2 DAC/headphone amp, and includes user-selectable frequency-shaping filters and input selection controls, available via two fascia-mounted spheres. Unlike the Hugo 2, however, the Qutest lacks a headphone amplifier, rechargeable Li-on batteries and crossfeed circuitry… three reasons it retails for considerably less than the Hugo 2 despite the shared circuitry. ‘The new Qutest is the latest evolution of Chord Electronics’ most affordable standalone DAC, the multiaward-winning 2Qute, which it directly replaces,’ says Chris Strom, of Radiance AudioVisual, which distributes Chord Electronics in Australia. The Qutest has galvanically isolated USB-B, optical and dual coaxial digital inputs, plus high-resolution 768kHz-capable dual-data digital inputs for connection to Chord Electronics’ devices including the 705/768kHz-ready M-Scaler-technology BLU MKII digital/ CD transport. Qutest offers support for up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512 via its galvanically isolated USB-B input, 24-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD128 via coaxial (BNC) and 24-bit/192kHz data on Optical TOSLink. DSD 64 to DSD 256 is supported via DoP and ASIO native DSD format is also supported up to 512.

The square-edge chassis design is reportedly the work of owner and Chief Designer John Franks. The two ‘control spheres’ are not only used for filter and input selection—they also illuminate with different colours to denote sampling frequency and filter used. Available now, the Chord Qutest sells for $2,400 (RRP).

For further information, please contact Radiance AudioVisual on (02) 9659 1117 or visit the website at www.radianceav.com.au

DEVIALET WHITE PHANTOM French manufacturer Devialet has increased the peak power of its White Phantom powered speaker at the same time as local distributor Interdyn has reduced the price. Devialet says it has increased the peak power of the entry-point White Phantom by 60 per cent by upgrading its firmware, which means any existing owners will also be able to increase the peak power of their units, using the Devialet Spark app. (The continuous power output, of course, remains the same.) At the same time, Devialet’s Australian distributor, Interdyn, has reduced the price of the White Phantom to $2,690 (it was previously $2,990). ‘Devialet has turned the world of audio on its head once again,’ said Sam Encel, Director at Interdyn. ‘The Phantom now sounds more impressive than ever, and the brand has further cemented itself as one of the leading innovators in audio tech.’

For more information, contact Interdyn on (03) 9426 3600 or visit www.interdyn.com.au

ASTELL&KERN AK70 MKII The new AK70MkII is the first dual-DAC high-resolution player from Astell&Kern for less than $1,000… and it’s not the $999 you might expect, but $899. The AK70MkII is the successor to Astell&Kern’s best-selling player, the AK70, which won a Sound&Image Award last year. This MkII version features two major upgrades: two Cirrus Logic CS4398 DACs, one each for the left and right channels, and also has almost twice the power output. Astell&Kern says the 4.0VRMS-rated balanced output can drive any headphones on the market today. In addition to 3.5mm unbalanced and 2.5mm, 4-pole balanced headphone outputs, the AK70 MkII features digital out via USB, supporting native DSD output via USB

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through DoP (DSD over PCM) and converting DSD to PCM for output to external USB Audio devices that do not support DoP. The Astell&Kern AK70 MkII has 64GB of internal flash storage, and its microSD card slot can be used to deliver up to 256GB of additional storage. It’s Wi-Fi enabled, supports OTA firmware updates and streaming music from other devices on the same network, plus it supports the AK ‘Connect’ app, available for iOS and Android devices. It also has a USB DAC function so it can be connected to a Mac/PC to bypass its internal sound card and output hi-res audio.

For more information, contact BusiSot on 1300 888 602 or at www.busisot.com.au

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www.caryaudio.com.au 02 9774 9900


ON TEST

MUSIC HALL mmf 1.5 TURNTABLE

R

oy Hall, the founder of Music Hall, is the person responsible for the very modern trend for quality turntables to be supplied all set up and ready to go. Before Music Hall started to build its ‘plug ‘n play’ machines, the manufacturers of audiophile-grade turntables worked on the principle that one of the indicators of the quality of a turntable was how much work the buyer had to do before being able to play an LP. At the extreme high end of the turntable market, this meant not only assembling the turntable by putting oil into the bearing, fitting the platter, locating the motor and wrapping the belt around both the drive pulley and the platter, but also fitting the tonearm, then attaching the phono cartridge to that tonearm and aligning it. Ensuring correct alignment involved purchasing test records and alignment tools. For machines using springs for isolation, even more tuning was required. Some manufacturers say their machines are so complicated they’ll only work correctly if installed and tuned by a factory-trained technician. Even at the opposite end of the market, most turntable buyers were required to fit the platter and dustcover and install and align the phono cartridge and Hall realised that even this level was a hurdle for many buyers and as a result they were buying cheap, poor-sounding turntables simply because they were ‘ready-to-go’ out of the box. According to Hall, the result of this was that the best-selling turntable in the

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United States was the Crosby Executive Black turntable, which sold for $109 with tonearm and cartridge and was, in Hall’s personal and considered opinion, ‘a heap of rubbish!’ Hall designed his Music Hall USB-1 turntable as a direct competitor to it. Music Hall’s new mmf 1.5 turntable isn’t exactly a ‘turn-key’ model, because you do have to do some assembly and alignment yourself, but it’s pretty straight-forward, as you’ll soon learn…

THE EQUIPMENT The Music Hall mmf 1.5 is a three-speed (33.33, 45 and 78rpm), belt-driven turntable—with dustcover—that comes complete with a tonearm into which has been pre-installed a ‘Melody’ moving-magnet phono cartridge, and also has a built-in phono preamplifier, so the mmf1.5 can be connected directly to the line input of any amplifier… quite handy given that not a few amplifier manufacturers are not including phono inputs on their products these days. If you don’t think there’s anything at all remarkable about the previous paragraph, it’s because you haven’t peeked at the recommended retail price of the Musical Hall mmf 1.5. No need to peek. I’ll tell you. You’ll get change from six hundred bucks. Why do I think that’s remarkable? Because I have reviewed a great many turntables whose dustcover is an optional extra that will set you back around $100. And most turntables don’t have a phono preamplifier built in, so if you need one, you’ll be up for anything from $150 for a basic no-frills Rek-O-Kut model, to maybe $350 for a Musical Fidelity V90-LPS.

Then there’s the cartridge that comes supplied with the mmf 1.5. The Melody is made especially for Music Hall by Audio-Technica, so I have no idea what it costs Music Hall, but Audio-Technica’s most popular low-cost cartridge is its AT-95, which usually retails for around $80. So if you had to buy a dustcover, a preamp and a cartridge, you’d be up for $330, which is already more than half what Music Hall is asking for its mmf 1.5 which comes standard with all three. But there’s something else that’s remarkable about the Music Hall mmf 1.5 turntable. Whereas most companies that manufacture budget turntables seem to feel that it’s necessary to make those turntables look like budget turntables by compromising their ‘fit ‘n finish’, Musical Hall has instead seemed to have gone overboard making the mmf 1.5 look as flash as possible, from its high-glossy cherry-wood veneered finish and nicely engineered S-shaped tonearm (which has a removable headshell, about which more later) to its high-quality hinged Perspex dustcover.

Musical Hall has instead seemed to have gone overboard making its mmf 1.5 look as ǡŘʊǒŘʊɡɁʊʊǔŽǚƬ ˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


M u s i c H a l l m m f 1 . 5 Tu r n t a b l e

It even has a high-quality heavy-duty rubber platter mat in place of the flimsy felt ones that are usually supplied at this end of the market. The result of all this is that the Music Hall mmf 1.5 looks like it’s a high-end turntable. To get the review turntable into action, I had to place the aluminium platter over the spindle and then wrap the drive belt around the motor shaft. This is made easy for you because the belt is pre-fitted to the platter, and there’s a little section of red cloth under the belt, so if you pull the cloth to the other side of the motor shaft you’re able to complete the installation quickly and easily without ever having to touch the belt itself. The thick rubber platter mat can then be placed over the platter. I was a bit confused about cartridge installation, because my review unit came with the cartridge pre-installed into the headshell—which is supplied separately in the packaging—so all I had to do was ‘push n twist’ the headshell into the tonearm. However the manual has full instructions that detail how to install the cartridge into the headshell prior to fitting it to the tonearm. I subsequently learned that all cartridges will be pre-installed, so the instructions in the manual about it are superfluous. So far as the tonearm is concerned, it doesn’t come completely pre-assembled or aligned either. I had to fit the counterweight, and then adjust the tracking force to 2 grams, which is the recommended tracking force for the Melody cartridge. Then I had to set the anti-skating dial, which is simply a matter of turning it to the ‘2’ calibration mark. I should also remark at this point that it’s great that the tonearm on the Music Hall mmf 1.5 actually has anti-skating at all. In the rush to deliver ever-cheaper turntables, many manufacturers are not providing anti-skating devices, which is not only bad for sound quality, and bad for your stylus, but bad for your LPs as well. Music Hall makes much of the shape of its tonearm (which looks suspiciously like it came from a Technics SL-1200 turntable) with its publicity material seeming to say that so-called ‘S-shaped’ tonearms are ‘superior’ (presumably to straight or J-shaped tonearms) in some way. The truth of the matter is that the shape of any tonearm has zero effect on the performance of the cartridge it’s supporting. So long as a tonearm’s effective length and mass are correct for the cartridge it’s supporting (and there are no untoward tonearm resonances), it would not matter if the tonearm were shaped like a pretzel… it would still do the job. To finish my install I had to attach the dustcover hinges to the dustcover, and then fit the dustcover hinges into the supports that

are already fitted to the turntable plinth, and lastly connect power to the mmf 1.5, that power being supplied in this case by a wallmount plug pack (sometimes rather unkindly called a ‘wall wart’). This device (which also must also be assembled, by the way, by selecting and fitting the correct 240V pin arrangement for your country, delivers 12-volts d.c. to the mmf 1.5 to power both the drive motor and the internal phono stage. The Music Hall mmf 1.5 turntable feels very solid, and sits on four very solid vibration-absorbing feet. The only problem you might have is that although these feet certainly absorb unwanted vibration, they’re not height-adjustable, so the surface on which you place the mmf 1.5 needs to be perfectly flat and level, otherwise the turntable could rock… which you most certainly don’t want it to do.

IN USE AND LISTENING SESSIONS Before I started using the Music Hall mmf 1.5 I thought I’d better do some basic alignment checks, the first one being for cartridge alignment, since it’s the most important thing to get correct on any turntable. It turned out that although the Melody cartridge had certainly been pre-installed, it had not been pre-aligned. In fact the calibration was several millimetres in error. Using my own cartridge protractor, I found that to get correct alignment I had to move the cartridge mounting bolts to the extreme end of the tracks in the headshell. This means that if you change to a different cartridge,

you’ll have to make sure the stylus-to-mounting-hole distance is 11mm or more, otherwise you will not be able to correctly adjust that cartridge in this particular headshell. The misalignment made me realise that Music Hall does not provide any type of cartridge alignment tool in the packaging. This would normally mean you would need your dealer to loan you their own protractor, or have them align the cartridge correctly for you, but in this case, because the correct alignment is with the cartridge bolts at the extreme end of the track in the track, you’ll easily be able to align the cartridge correctly without need for a protractor. Very fortuitous. I then checked tracking force using an external digital tracking force gauge and found that if you use the ‘short-cut’ method described in Paragraph 6 (Page 3) of the Instruction Manual, the tracking force will be incorrect (too high). If, however, if you use the tracking force adjustment instructions described in Paragraph 7 (Page 3) of the Instruction Manual, the tracking force will be exactly right! I checked that the anti-skating force applied was correct using a GN Records Turntable Set-Up & Test LP and established that setting the anti-skating gauge to the same numerical value as the tracking force (that is, at ‘2’ for a tracking force of 2 grams, and at ‘1.5’ for a 1.5 gram tracking force, etc) will result in the tonearm applying the correct amount of anti-skating force to the stylus to give proper playback and least record wear. My last check was for platter speed using my own strobe card, and I was a bit flum-

Australian Hi-Fi

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M u s i c H a l l m m f 1 . 5 Tu r n t a b l e

ON TEST

moxed to find that the speed was ‘way out as well, at both 33.33 and 45 rpm… being rather too high in both cases. I checked using my own strobe card, because Music Hall does not provide a card. I think it should, but your dealer should be able to give you a card (or loan you a strobe disc). Alternatively you could just buy your own (a dual-speed, dual-frequency KeyStrobe Reference Standard Turntable Stroboscopic Disc costs around $40) or just print out your own strobe card by downloading this one: www.tinyurl.com/ ahf-strobe-card (but you should note that this strobe is only for setting rotational speed at 33.33rpm and will only work correctly in Australia and other countries with a 50Hz mains frequency). However it didn’t really matter that the ‘out-of-the-box’ platter speed was incorrect, because adjusting the platter speed on the Music Hall mmf 1.5 is very simple. You simply press and hold the platter speed knob at the rear of the turntable (it’s just alongside the d.c. input socket) until the red LED alongside it illuminates (about two seconds) then turn the knob clockwise to increase speed or counter clockwise to decrease it. When the speed is correct, wait until the red LED turns off, which indicates that the motor control unit (MCU) has memorised the setting. You need to do this separately for all three speeds. (But if you only intend to play 33.33 and 45 rpm records, you need not bother setting the 78 rpm speed at all… it won’t make any difference to the other adjustments.) Any speed adjustment you make will be retained in memory even if you turn off the turntable, or power it down, but I would recommend making it a habit to check the platter speed fairly regularly. A final quick comment on speed adjustment. The fact that you can adjust the speed on the Music Hall mmf 1.5 is a boon for anyone who can play (or who is learning to play) a musical instrument, because it means you can ‘tune’ the speed of whatever record you’re playing to be in exact tune with the instrument you’re playing, so you can ‘play

That you can adjust the speed on the Music Hall mmf 1.5 is a boon for anyone who plays a musical instrument... 18

Australian Hi-Fi

Although the cartridge comes pre-installed in the headshell, it does not come pre-aligned. The correct alignment is with the screws at the extreme end of the track.

along’ with an LP for fun, or for instructional reasons. If a turntable doesn’t have adjustable speed, this can’t be done. Just saying… Since I was using my own external phono preamplifier (at least for most of the time), I set the rear panel Phono/Line selector switch on the rear of the Music Hall mmf1.5 to the ‘Phono’ position, which bypasses the mmf 1.5’s own phono preamplifier. If you don’t have your own phono preamp and your amplifier does not have a dedicated phono input, you’d instead set this switch to ‘Line’ and connect the mmf 1.5’s interconnecting cables to the ‘Aux’ input of your amplifier or AV receiver. (Don’t forget to also connect the ground wire or you’ll end up with mains frequency hum.) I started off my listening sessions listening to the Music Hall Melody cartridge, which is fitted with a conical stylus. I initially wondered why Hall had specified a conical stylus, rather than an elliptical one, until I twigged that conical styluses are tougher than the more commonly-encountered elliptical styluses and they’ll generally sound better than elliptical styluses when replaying LPs that are worn and/or scratched. Also, a conical stylus is really the only stylus shape that should be used when playing 78 rpm records, which are much rougher on styluses than ordinary LPs… and the mmf 1.5, as we discovered in the opening paragraph of this review, is capable of playing 78 rpm records. This means that if Music Hall had fitted an elliptical stylus to the Melody cartridge, and someone damaged it when playing a 78, they’d have a claim on Musical Hall. Once I started listening to the Melody, I really forgot about what shape its diamond stylus was, because the sound it was delivering was excellent. It’s a really smooth, lovely-sounding cartridge, presenting admirable

detail, good channel separation and excellent frequency extension in both the bass and the treble. It also tracks remarkably well… though noticeably less so on the innermost tracks of an LP, particularly when there’s material that’s difficult to trace (such as on Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus LP). Listening to the lovely-sounding electric piano triplets on Everybody Hurts, from REM’s wonderful album ‘Automatic for the People’ was thoroughly enjoyable, and as Stipe’s voice becomes more powerful and pervasive as the track builds, you can feel the foreboding as he sings: ‘When you’re sure you’ve had too much of this life, well, hang on.’ The Melody reproduced guitarist Peter Buck’s deft finger-picking perfectly clearly and the cartridge’s bass delivery was more than up to delivering the rhythmic underpinnings of Mike Mills (bass) and Bill Berry (drums) in a tight, forceful manner. It was also up to delivering the myriad sonic complexities of the album’s two finest tracks, Nightswimming and Find the River. On vinyl, the ‘mood’ of these songs is completely different than when you hear them played from a digital file, even when it’s on a budget spinner like the Music Hall mmf 1.5. You’ll hear the way vinyl can deliver ‘mood’ better than digital no better than on the late Leonard Cohen’s ‘Popular Problems’. Even the best songs on this album—Born in Chains and Samson in New Orleans—do not touch his early masterpieces—at least for my money—and his voice is not even a shadow of his younger self, but the emotional delivery is superb… the songs actually sound tired, and you can really hear the suffering behind the lyric, yet at the same time you can also hear that there’s redemption waiting just around the corner, even if that light on the corner lamppost is flickering erratically. Popular Problems on vinyl just takes you to a place that Popular Problems on digital does not. My feeling is that you’re going to be so happy with the sound and tracing ability of

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ON TEST

M u s i c H a l l m m f 1 . 5 Tu r n t a b l e

the Music Hall Melody cartridge, that you’ll be listening to it quite happily until the stylus needs replacement (usually around 1,000 hours of listening… assuming you’re not playing 78s!). When the time for a stylus replacement does come around you have a few options. One is to buy an elliptical replacement stylus for the Melody cartridge. The ‘Carbon Fidelity’ CFN3600LE stylus sold by US outfit LP Gear will slot straight in. Another is to buy a brand-new cartridge already fitted with an elliptical stylus (Audio Technica’s AT-95E or AT100E, for example) and a new headshell with slots that allow correct alignment. One option you won’t have in Australia is to buy a replacement stylus, because the local distributor sells only complete cartridges for $80 (RRP) and not replacement styli. The advantage of having a second cartridge fitted to a separate headshell is that because you can swap headshells in a matter of seconds on the Music Hall mmf1.5, it would be easy to use your more expensive, elliptical stylus on your newer records, and the Melody with its conical stylus on your older records (and when playing 78s). If you do decide to buy a new cartridge and headshell you’ll also need to purchase an alignment tool. The tool I always recommend is the Pro-Ject ‘Align-It’ which retails for around $199 (RRP). If you don’t want to spend this much, Turntable Basics sells one for $20 (plus shipping, as it’s only available on-line). If even this is too much, grab yourself a Garrott Bros cartridge alignment card for $10. (It would have been so much easier if Music Hall had included an alignment card.) Incidentally, if 1,000 hours from a stylus doesn’t seem very long to you (despite the fact that it would involve listening to three albums per night, five days a week, for two years), consider the fact that when playing an LP, essentially what’s happening is that you’re dragging a diamond through a ditch (groove) made of vinyl. If you straightened out the ‘ditch’ on both sides of an LP and joined them together, that ditch would be around 1 kilometre long, so 1,000 hours of playing time equates to dragging your stylus around 1,560 kilometres. Also, I was also being rather generous when I stated stylus life at 1,000 hours. Stylus manufacturer’s suggestions regarding stylus life usually range between only 400 hours and 800 hours, with all of them noting that actual stylus life will depend on the alignment of the stylus (overhang, azimuth, etc) as well as the tracking and anti-skating forces you use… plus, of course, the condition of your records and the playback speed. Stylus life also depends on stylus shape. Conically-shaped styluses wear out faster

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than elliptically shaped ones, for example. Serious audiophiles have their stylus examined under microscope (100× magnification required) every 100 hours after they’ve notched up around 400 hours of play. This is why I always factor replacement stylus cost into my buying decision whenever I am purchasing a cartridge. It’s far better to buy a cheaper cartridge on which you can afford to regularly replace the stylus, than to buy an expensive cartridge and not replace the stylus regularly because you can’t afford it! But no matter what cartridge or stylus you use, its performance would be for naught unless the basic performance of the turntable to which it’s fitted is not up to par, and I’m happy to report that the performance of the Music Hall mmf 1.5 is not just ‘up to par’, but exceptionally good! Despite me using the slowest piano music I had available, I could not hear anything in the reproduced sound that I could attribute to either wow or flutter. The pitching was rock-steady and sustained high-frequency sounds were perfectly pure. Neither could I hear any low-frequency contributions from either the main platter bearing or the drive motor whilst I was listening to music. The sound was as clean as a whistle.

CONCLUSION The Music Hall mmf 1.5 is a superb turntable whose performance belies its price... big-time. And it’s not only an exceptional performer; it also looks exceptionally good into the bargain. Best budget turntable of the year? It Nigel Cullen certainly has my vote!

CONTACT DETAILS Brand: Music Hall Model: mmf 1.5 RRP: $599 Warranty: Three Years Distributor: Convoy International Pty Ltd Address: Unit 2. 314 Horsley Road Milperra NSW 2214 T2: (02) 9774 9900

LAB REPORT

Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Music Hall mmf 1.5 Turntable should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on the following pages. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/or displayed using graphs and/or photographs should ċě ČŭŢƛƧƓƯěē ðƛ ðƐƐŗǍŁŢĴ ŭŢŗǍ Ƨŭ Ƨļě ƛƐěČŁǠČ ƛðŠƐŗě tested.

LABORATORY TEST RESULTS Newport Test Labs is now measuring the frequency response of phono cartridges using two different measurement techniques. Graph 1 shows the frequency response and channel separation of the Music Hall Melody moving-magnet phono cartridge when is reproducing a pink noise test signal. This is a particularly difficult test for any cartridge because pink noise means that the cartridge is simultaneously reproducing all frequencies between 20Hz and 20kHz. Reproducing this pink noise test signal you can see that the Music Hall Melody cartridge delivered a very flat frequency response between 70Hz and 1kHz, where the response was within ±3dB. The overall frequency response was 22Hz to 20kHz ±5dB. You can see the overall flatness of the response was pulled down by the low-frequency boost centred at 55Hz and the high-frequency roll-off above 15kHz. Across the range between 150Hz and 14kHz the frequency response was a truly excellent ±1dB. Channel separation was 21dB @ 1kHz, which is good, as well as being better than specification. More importantly, channel separation was maintained at 15dB or better all the way from 300Hz up to 9kHz. Graph 2 shows the frequency response of the Music Hall Melody cartridge measured using a spot frequency

E: info@convoy.com.au W: www.convoy.com.au

Ɗ Performance Ɗ Appearance Ɗ Phono stage built in Ɗ Adjustable speed Ɗ Stylus availability Ɗ Strobe card Ɗ Alignment card Ɗ Non-adjustable feet

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EXPERIENCE SOUND


M u s i c H a l l m m f 1 . 5 Tu r n t a b l e

LAB REPORT

technique, where Newport Test Labs measured only one frequency at a time, then presented the results as a contiguous graph. This is obviously a much easier task for any phono cartridge because at any given time it’s only reproducing one frequency, and only in one channel. As you can see, the Music Hall Melody cartridge returned a much flatter frequency response using this measurement technique: 20Hz to 16kHz ±1.5dB, but the response above 15kHz rolls off quite steeply to be 1dB down at 16kHz and 6dB down at 20kHz. In real terms, the actual frequency response of the cartridge when it’s reproducing music will fall somewhere between the responses shown in Graphs 1 and 2. When replaying undemanding music, the response is going to be closer to what’s shown in Graph 2, while as the music becomes more demanding (more instruments plus a greater range of different types of instruments) the response will start to approach that shown in Graph 1. In Graph 3, Newport Test Labs has measured harmonic distortion of the Musical Hall Melody cartridge when it’s reproducing a single 1kHz tone. Performance is fairly typical of a moving-magnet phono cartridge, with a second harmonic at –35dB (1.77%), a third harmonic at –57dB (0.14%), a fourth at –61dB (0.08%), a fifth at –65dB (0.05%), a sixth at –77dB (0.01%) and a seventh at –75dB (0.01%). If there were any higher-order harmonics, they were buried beneath the record surface noise at those frequencies, which was at around –85dB. Square wave performance was very good, as you can see from the oscillogram, with well-controlled ringing and the only noticeable anomaly being that the overshoots and ringing are not symmetrical on both halves of the waveform. When the turntable’s adjustable speed control was in its default (detent position) Newport Test Labs measured platter speed as 2.4% fast at 33.33rpm and 1.8% fast at 45rpm. This means that a 3kHz signal played back at 3,073Hz at 33.33rpm and at 3.054Hz at 45rpm. From a musical perspective, this difference represents less than one quarter of a semitone in pitch, so it might just be audible to someone with perfect pitch, but not to anyone else. After the rotational speeds were correctly adjusted (necessary in order to be able to perform accurate wow and flutter measurements), via the speed control at the rear of the turntable plinth, Newport Test Labs measured the total wow and flutter of the Music Hall mmf 1.5 turntable as 0.05% RMS unweighted at 33.33rpm and 0.04% RMS unweighted at 45rpm, both of which are excellent figures, and ‘way better than

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-10

Graph 1. Graph 1. Frequency Response and channel separation using pink noise test signal at -10dB re 3.54cm/second RMS at 1kHz. Music Hall Melody Cartridge.

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Graph 2. Frequency Response using spot frequencies at -14dB re 3.54cm/ second RMS at 1kHz. Music Hall Melody Cartridge.

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Graph 3. THD at 1kHz @ 3.54cm/sec RMS. Music Hall Melody Cartridge.

Graph 4. Rumble and noise re 1kHz at 3.54cm/sec RMS. Green trace shows background noise and hum (disc not rotating). Black trace shows noise and hum when record ŁƛƓŭƧðƧŁŢĴ̻sƯƛŁČQðŗŗŠŠij˘̻˜»ƯƓŢƧðċŗěǠƧƧěēLJŁƧļ Melody moving-magnet cartridge.

the Australian standard, which is 0.15% RMS unweighted. When Newport Test Labs measured the wow and flutter components separately, the result for wow came in at 0.12% (unweighted) at 33.33rpm and for flutter, at 0.08% (unweighted). Again, both are excellent results. Turntable rumble is shown in Graph 4. The green trace shows measured noise when the platter is stationary, so it’s just showing mains hum (the peaks at 50Hz, 150Hz, 250Hz, 350Hz and 450Hz.) Except for the 50Hz and 150Hz hum components, all others are more than 80dB down. You can see that at low frequencies, the background noise is sitting at around –70dB, so this represents the limit of the measurement. Once the platter is rotating (black trace) you can see there’s

a bit of low-level noise below 30Hz, though the left-most of the two peaks is the tonearm resonance frequency, but otherwise, below 150Hz, any noise from the turntable itself is indistinguishable from the background environmental noise. Above 150Hz bearing and motor noise is essentially more than 90dB down, which is an excellent result. Power consumption of the Music Hall mmf 1.5 is negligible, with the turntable pulling 2.9-watts when playing at 33.33 rpm or 45 rpm, and 3.05-watts when playing at 78 rpm. When the turntable is switched off via the plinth control, the power pack continues to consume 0.16-watts of power on its own. Overall, both the Musical Hall mmf1.5 turntable and the Melody cartridge returned Steve Holding excellent results in all tests.

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SX10AE

SIMPLY, A GOOD STEREO RECEIVER. BUILT-IN BLUETOOTH®, POWERFUL BASS & ESSENTIAL CONNECTIONS. For authorised dealers and more information visit www.pioneeraudio.com.au or call Powermove Distribution on 08 8338 5540. PioneerHomeAU


ON TEST

HARBETH 30.2 ANNIVERSARY LOUDSPEAKERS

H

arbeth does seem to be stringing out its 40th anniversary models a tad (given that the company celebrated that anniversary ‘way back in 2017) but so long as we keep getting models finished in those beautiful silver Eucalyptus Anniversary veneers we won’t be complaining! As you’ll likely already guessed from the model number, the 30.2 is an upgraded version of Harbeth’s M30.1 model, the review of which you can find at www.tinyurl.com/ AHF-Harbeth-30p1-Review. The M30.2 Anniversary model sports WBT ‘Nextgen’ binding posts, Harbeth’s ‘new-look’ tweeter, audio-grade polyester capacitors that are made in England specifically for Harbeth plus, of course, being an ‘Anniversary’ model, it is badged front and rear with ‘40th Anniversary

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Limited Edition’ badges, plus the grille has a metallic black and gold anniversary badge. The coup de grâce is the silver eucalyptus veneer, which is exclusive to Harbeth’s ‘Anniversary’ models.

THE EQUIPMENT The Harbeth 30.2 is a two-way bass reflex design with a 25mm soft-dome tweeter, a 200mm bass driver and a single front-firing circular bass reflex port. You can’t really see the dome of the tweeter, because it’s protected by a steel mesh that Harbeth calls a ‘Hexgrille’ presumably by virtue of the fact that the holes in the mesh are hexagonally shaped, rather than the circular, square or diamond shapes that are usually found in the metal grilles used to protect tweeter domes. Although Harbeth reportedly manufactures one of its tweeters, the one used in the 30.2 is made especially for it by SEAS,

and is made to a different specification than the tweeter used in the Monitor 30.1, even though that one is also made by SEAS for Harbeth. One very obvious difference is that the Hexgrille on the 30.2 is a light grey colour, whereas the one on the 30.1 is black. Note that it’s only me who’s calling the colour ‘light grey’—everyone else, presumably taking their cue from Harbeth’s terminology, is calling it ‘silver’. It’s certainly not silver, or even silver-coloured. If you see it in the flesh, I think you’ll agree with me that ‘light grey’ is the closest match on the colour spectrum. (I initially thought that maybe they were calling it silver because 40th anniversaries call for gifts made of silver, but when I checked the all-knowing Wikipedia, it seems that silver is for 25th anniversaries. For fortieth anniversaries, it appears that ruby is the gift to give.) The bass/midrange driver’s cone is injection-moulded and uses the second generation of a special formulation of polypropylene that Harbeth developed in partnership with the University of Sussex, using grant money from the British Government’s Science & Engineering Research Council. The first generation of this material was dubbed ‘RADIAL’, which was an acronym invented by Harbeth’s owner, Alan Shaw, to stand for ‘Research And Development In Advanced Loudspeakers’, so it seemed only obvious that the second generation of the material would be called RADIAL2. Harbeth rates the cone in the 30.2 Anniversary as being 200mm in diameter, however the Thiele/Small diameter, which is what’s used by designers to determine the volume of the cabinet and the size and length of the bass reflex port(s) in that cabinet is just 164mm, which results in an effective cone area (Sd) of 212cm². The cone’s roll surround is made from rubber, which is excellent news for Australians, because the extremely high levels of ultraviolet radiation in Australia mean that roll surrounds made from foam usually start to fall apart after about five years, whereas rubber roll surrounds are virtually indestructible. The 30.2 Anniversary’s bass reflex port is 50mm in diameter and 55mm long, and is positioned quite a long way from the driver whose output it is intended to augment, which is quite unusual. As you can see, it is also positioned at the top of the front baffle rather than at the bottom, which is the more usual placement. When I reviewed the 30.1 I surmised that this location was chosen in order that the cabinet could be smaller (except that despite being advertised by Harbeth as a ‘space-saving reference monitor’ it’s not particularly small!) but I suggested that the same result could have been achieved by

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Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary Loudspeakers

using two ports, located slightly above and to either side of the bass/midrange driver… a configuration that Harbeth already uses on its Monitor 40.2. The bass reflex port on the 30.2 Anniversary does not have same problem that I noted on the 30.1, which is that if you operate the speakers without the grilles fitted (as many passionate audiophiles are wont to do) you will see a piece of white damping foam at the inside end of the port. It seems Harbeth has paid heed to the comments in my earlier review and although the foam is not black, as I recommended, it’s now grey and is dark enough not to be visible through the port if you use the speakers without the grilles. If you’re now thinking to yourself that you could simply leave the grilles on when the speakers are not being used and take them off when you are using them, you’ll have to think again, because the grilles on the 30.2 Anniversaries are very, VERY difficult to remove. This is because instead of being made from the usual wood or plastic and attached to the front panel using plastic pegs, the frame of the grille on the 30.2 Anniversary is made from flat mild steel, which has to be pressed into a rather deep and very narrow groove that runs around the periphery of the front baffle. This technique means you won’t get any unwanted reflections from the grille frame when you’re using the speakers with the grille in place (and those reflections are one of the reasons audiophiles remove loudspeaker grilles in the first place!). However this construction technique also makes the grilles very difficult to remove— indeed, a previous reviewer had actually damaged the cabinet of my review sample

If you look at the size and weight of the 30.2 Anniversary, one thing should strike you immediately, which is that for a speaker whose cabinet measures 460×277×275mm (HWD) it doesn’t weigh very much—only 11.6kg in point of fact. The reason for this is that all the panels on the speaker except the front baffle are only 12mm thick… less than half the thickness usually found in a loudspeaker of this size. Even the front baffle of the Monitor 30.2 is only made from 18mm-thick stock, whereas the front baffles of most speakers are between 25 and 32mm thick. This very lightweight construction is intentional, because Harbeth prefers to control panel resonances not by increasing the mass of the panels, but by controlling the resonances with tuning devices (damping mats) attached to the inside of those panels. Unlike some Harbeth models, however, there is some cross-bracing inside the Monitor 30.2 to help constrain panel movement. Unlike most modern loudspeaker cabinets, which are constructed without any visible seams, joints or fixings, the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary cabinets have more than a few visible joints and fixings, in particular the 12 screws that hold the rear panel to the two side panels and to the top and bottom panels. Unlike the screws that hold the Harbeth 30.1 together, the heads of the screws holding the 30.2 together are ‘tamper-proof’ so you need a special screwdriver to remove them. (Though this apparently didn’t deter the aforementioned reviewer who damaged the cabinet whilst trying to remove the grille from also damaging the tamper-proof screws by trying to remove them with a standard Philips-head screwdriver!) In switching to the tamper-proof design, Harbeth has succeeded in making the screws less visible than they were on the 30.1. The six panels from which the Monitor 30.2 Anniversary are constructed are high-density fibre-boards that are veneered

The Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary proved to be a very neutralsounding speaker… or perhaps that should be ‘natural-sounding’

while he was removing the grille—which means you may do the same if you continually remove and replace the grilles. Unfortunately, as I noted in my review of the 30.1 speakers, this makes it hard to remove the grilles for vacuum cleaning, which has to be done every couple of years if you want the grilles to retain their ‘blackness’. So if you do want to vacuum the grilles I’d suggest doing it while they’re still in place… just do it very carefully!

on both sides. This dual-side veneer technique is much better than using just a single veneer on the outer wall (a technique used by most speaker manufacturers) as it seals the fibre-board better against climatic conditions and ensures dimensional stability. Whereas the Monitor 30.1 is available in a fairly wide range of veneers that are made from real wood, the 30.2 Anniversary is only available in Silver Eucalyptus. The veneers on my review sample were grainmatched and finished with a thin coat of cellulose lacquer that according to Harbeth’s Owner’s Manual can be kept clean by wiping it lightly with a damp cloth. As presaged in the introduction, the rear of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary sports original WBT Nextgen binding posts that are made in Germany (the 30.1 has very nice standard gold plated binding posts). Having used both types, my vote is definitely for the WBTs— they’re great! Inside the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary you’ll find a large printed circuit board that is home to four ferrite-cored inductors, nine capacitors and six cermet resistors. As stated in the introduction, the 30.2 Anniversary uses very high-quality audio-grade polyester capacitors that are made in England specifically for Harbeth. The internal wiring on the 30.2 is thick, multi-conductor, ultra-low resistance ultra-pure oxygen-free copper.

IN USE AND LISTENING SESSIONS The Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary proved to be a very neutral-sounding speaker… or perhaps that should be ‘natural-sounding’, in that it added no character of its own to the recorded sound. This was hardly surprising, of course, because it was designed by engineers working at the British Broadcasting Corporation specifically to monitor the sound quality of the audio transmitted by the BBC’s radio and television stations. Well, the 30.2 Anniversary wasn’t actually designed by the BBC, of course, it was designed by Alan Shaw, the current owner of Harbeth, but he purchased the company from Hugh Harwood who was one of those engineers at the BBC before he left to establish Harbeth in 1967.

Australian Hi-Fi

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ON TEST

Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary Loudspeakers

However, although the 30.2 Anniversary was designed by Alan Shaw and takes advantage of the new processes and materials that are now available, Shaw himself says that it’s not really a ‘new’ design, just an evolution of an original BBC design (in this specific case, it’s an evolution of a design known as the LS5/9). For best performance you’ll need to mount the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary on stands, yet Harbeth itself doesn’t make any for them. As it happens, Harbeth speakers are so popular in the UK that two British manufacturers make stands specifically for the various Harbeth models. Two that are already available for 30.1 (and thus are perfect for the 30.2 Anniversary as well) are made by TonTräger and HiFi Racks, and are available in Australia from importer/distributor Audio Magic for $1,700 and $1,190 per pair, respectively. Alternatively your local hi-fi dealer may have Australian-made stands available to suit the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary. The only real requirements are that the stands are solid, elevate the speakers at least 50cm above the floor and don’t have a flat metal plate at the top. As always when I listen to a pair of Harbeth speakers, I was impressed by the way the 30.2 Anniversaries were able to create a real, palpable sense of acoustic space to the music that was reproduced… and they managed to deliver this ‘air’ and ‘ambience’ irrespective of the ‘scale’ of the music being played. It didn’t matter whether it was a solo performer or a full orchestra—or any type of ensemble in between—the sound was seemingly suspended in the room, neither constrained within the cabinets nor ‘larger than life’, but just, somehow, ‘there’. Listening to Tomorrow, the opening track on Rachel Collis’s album Nightlight, the 30.2 Anniversaries’ delivery was so ambient that if I closed my eyes, I could really imagine she was singing there in the room, and the sound of her piano was superbly realistic. When the percussion chimes in, the percussive nature of the sonic was like a sudden aural shock to the ears after the fluidity of the vocal and piano. It’s this sense of naturalistic space— and of image height and depth—that I think is probably the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversaries’s greatest strength. I trialled the bass delivery of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary first with Machine Gun Fellatio’s Unsent Letter and was surprised to hear rather more punch and depth than I might otherwise have expected from what is essentially a relatively small two-way loudspeaker, but the bass was certainly not overly extended, which I proved to my satisfaction by continuing the listening session first with piano and then with pipe organ. However, in smaller rooms it should be more than suffi-

cient, and if you want more bass, it’s simply a matter of moving the loudspeakers closer to a rear wall… as I discovered, though I preferred the overall sound when the speakers were a couple of metres from that wall, so that’s where I conducted almost all my auditioning. I was totally blown away by the clarity and precision of the bass delivery, which was particularly evident when playing Schubert’s piano trios, as realised by Trio Alba on SACD (Audiomax 9023013-6). Listen to the openness of the sound of Chengcheng Zhao’s piano, and to the dynamics. I thought that perhaps Philipp Comploi’s cello was a bit more ‘out front’ in the sonic mix, but perhaps all the better just to hear the utter gorgeousness of the sounds he is able to extract from it. This same SACD also was perfect to reveal the performance of Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary’s tweeter, because Livia Sellin’s violin has been recorded to perfection. Listening to the opening bars of D897 Notturno was a truly magical experience, as the sounds of both the cello and the violin seemed to issue from almost nothingness then solidify in the atmosphere directly in front of me. Importantly, the higher harmonics of the violin sound were almost ethereally pure, with no ‘edge’ at all. I paid particular attention to the presentation of the very highest frequencies, because, as I noted in my review of the 30.1s, I thought the highs on the 30.1 were slightly held back. I am happy to be able to say that the high-frequency sound on the 30.2 Anniversaries is not ‘held back’ in any way at all… it’s perfect. Not only is there no roll-off at all, but also the sound itself is rather more pure and more translucent. As for the midrange from the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary, it was perfection itself, and as the late great J. Gordon Holt famously said: ‘If you don’t get the midrange right, nothing else matters.’ One of the discs I use for assessing vocal clarity is a BBC recording of Dylan Thomas’ famous ‘play for voices’, ‘Under Milkwood’—which was very likely monitored with BBC speakers. If a loudspeaker can’t articulate correctly, you’re going to miss half the dialogue of the play, and if it can’t separate different voices speaking simultaneously you’ll miss the whole ‘feel’ of the hubbub of the play. The Harbeth Monitor 30.2s didn’t let me down… I heard not only every single word, but also every single syllable of every single word. Glorious! The perfection of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary’s midrange sound was further revealed when I listened to the amazing soprano sound of Berit Norbakken Solset on ‘The Image of Melancholy’ (BIS 2057), which is not only riveting, but hauntingly beautiful.

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Australian Hi-Fi

Once more, having played exactly the same recording on the 30.1 and made copious notes about what I was hearing, I scored the 30.2 fractionally higher.

CONCLUSION It is my guess that almost every single person reading this review will be doing so in order to make a decision about whether to buy a pair of Harbeth Monitor 30.1s or a pair of Harbeth 30.2 Anniversaries, and it’s a hard decision because they’re both superb-sounding speakers that, not surprisingly given their many similarities, sound very similar. If it were a horse race, and I were the steward, I’d put the 30.2 Annniversaries ahead by a nose! But it’s not a horse race, and so after listening to the two side by side, you may well decide you prefer the sound of the Harbeth Monitor 30.1s. In the end, it will probably come down to having to make exactly the same decision you have to make every time you book an aeroplane flight, and that is that whether you choose to fly First Class or Business, you’re going to arrive in exactly the same place, at exactly the same time… but it’s ‘way nicer up Hugh Douglas at the pointy end. Continued on Page 28

Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary Loudspeakers should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on the following pages. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/or displayed using graphs and/or photographs should be construed as applying only to ǜǒƬʊɡƬƋǔǞƋʊŘȧɡǚƬǜƬʊǜƬƞƖ

CONTACT DETAILS Brand: Harbeth Model: 30.2 Anniversary RRP: $6,950 per pair Warranty: Five Years Distributor: Audio Magic Pty Ltd Address: 482 High Street Northcote VIC 3070 T: (03) 9489 5122 E: info@audiomagic.com.au W: www. audiomagic.com.au

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LAB REPORT

LABORATORY TEST REPORT Graph 1 shows the frequency response of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary loudspeaker, as measured by Newport Test Labs. It’s excellent, as you can see, with the lab reporting it as 47Hz to 26kHz ±3dB. I couldn’t actually find the specification for the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary on Harbeth’s website—every time I clicked on the tab that said ‘Specifications’ it took me to those for the 30.1, which show its response as 50Hz–20kHz ±3dB. Not only is the 30.2 Anniversary’s frequency response extremely flat, there’s also no skew or tilt that would otherwise mean the speaker might emphasise the high or low end of the spectrum, so the response is not only flat, but also balanced. Comparing the same measurement with that Newport Test Labs made on the 30.1, it’s very easy to see where Harbeth has made improvements. First, the response between 250Hz and 5kHz is a little flatter, a little more linear and doesn’t tend to trend downwards in level with increasing frequency. Essentially, the response between 250Hz and 5kHz is ±1dB. Harbeth has also made considerable improvements to the frequency response at high frequencies. They haven’t been able to

eliminate the peak in the tweeter’s response at 6.1kHz, but where the 30.1’s response above this frequency was a bit jagged, and rolled off down to 15kHz before picking up, the 30.2’s high-frequency response is much, much smoother and barely rolls off at all… in fact it doesn’t really begin rolling off until above 20kHz. (The frequency response shown in Graph 1 is actually the result of two separate measurements, details of which are included in the graph caption.) In Graph 2, Newport Test Labs has measured the high-frequency response of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary with the grille in place (black trace) and without it (red trace). Once again you can see how smooth and extended the tweeter’s high-frequency response is, even with the increased resolution afforded by the graphing—this is very good performance. You can also see that the grille is almost totally acoustically transparent, and there are no frame reflections at all (because the frame is recessed into the baffle). There is a very slight transmission loss, as the cloth absorbs some of the sound, which it does between 3.2kHz and 20kHz, but the loss (between 1 and 2dB) is basically uniform with frequency, so the

essential ‘character’ of the sound would not be affected. The grille does increase attenuation above 20kHz, so that whereas the high-frequency response without the grille is 3dB down at 26kHz, it’s 3dB down at 24kHz when the grille is fitted. Although it’s evident on the graph to the eye, this difference would not be perceptible to the ear… even a trained ear. The near-field low-frequency response of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary is shown in Graph 3, as measured by Newport Test Labs (but with somewhat different scaling from the same measurement the lab made on the 30.1). Essentially the graphs are almost identical, with the minima of the bass/midrange driver at 44Hz and the port’s output having a very low Q. The ‘kick’ in the port’s response at 280Hz is rather more obvious with this scaling, but it was also present in the output of the 30.1. It would seem to be caused by a cabinet resonance; its effect is also visible on the impedance trace. The impedance of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary shown in Graph 4 only drops below 6Ω at 160Hz (to 5.8Ω), and is also mostly above 8Ω, so it’s higher than I usually see on

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Graph 1. Frequency response. Trace below 900Hz is the averaged result of nine individual frequency sweeps measured at three metres, with the central grid point on-axis with the tweeter using pink noise test stimulus with capture unsmoothed. This has been manually spliced (at 900Hz) to the gated high-frequency response, an expanded view of which is shown in Graph 2. 110

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Graph 2. High-frequency response, expanded view showing response with grille ɁǏɤŽǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬɦ˸ƬʁʊˁʊǷʁǔǚǚƬɁȭɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦƖďƬʊǜʊǜǔȧˁǚˁʊǷŘǜƬƞʊǔȭƬƖÀǔƋʁɁɡǒɁȭƬ placed at three metres on-axis with dome tweeter. Lower measurement limit 500Hz.

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Graph 3.³Ɂ˹njʁƬɴˁƬȭƋ˿ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjnjʁɁȭǜȊǞʁǔȭǷŽŘʊʊʁƬǡƬ˾ɡɁʁǜɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦŘȭƞ ŽŘʊʊʤȧǔƞʁŘȭǷƬƞʁǔ˸ƬʁƖÂƬŘʁǞƬǚƞŘƋɴˁǔʊǔǜǔɁȭƖñɁʁǜʤ˹ɁɁnjƬʁǚƬ˸ƬǚʊȭɁǜƋɁȧɡƬȭʊŘǜƬƞ njɁʁƞǔǏƬʁƬȭƋƬʊǔȭʁŘƞǔŘǜǔȭǷŘʁƬŘʊƖ 110

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Graph 5. In-room frequency response using pink noise test stimulus with capture unsmoothed. Trace shown is are the averaged result of nine individual frequency sweeps measured at three metres, with the central grid point on-axis with the tweeter.

most modern speaker designs with 8Ω nominal impedance ratings, but it means that the 30.2 Anniversary is a true ‘eight-ohm’ design. The kink in the impedance trace is that panel resonance I noted earlier. The saddle between the two resonant peaks is at 45Hz, showing that you will get little effective output from the bass/midrange driver below this frequency. The rather high impedance of the system around 1.3kHz means some amplifiers might reduce their output in this region as a result, so amplifier matching will assume greater importance with this design than it might with some other speakers. The way the impedance rises above 15kHz ensures the speaker will be very ‘amplifier-friendly’ however.

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Graph 4. Impedance modulus of Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary Loudspeaker (black trace) plus phase (light blue trace). Dark blue trace is reference 6 ohm precision calibration resistor.

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Graph 6.,ɁȧɡɁʊǔǜƬʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɡǚɁǜƖõƬƞǜʁŘƋƬǔʊɁˁǜɡˁǜɁnjŽŘʊʊʁƬǡƬ˾ɡɁʁǜƖ<Řʁǘ blue trace is anechoic response of bass driver. Black trace is the frequency response (from Graph 1).

The in-room response of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary is shown in Graph 5 with Newport Test Labs using a pink noise test stimulus, averaging nine different sweeps measured at three metres, with the upper frequency of the measurement limited at 10kHz. As you’d expect, the response is superbly flat and there’s absolutely no ‘skew’ to the trace—it almost tracks the 85dBSPL graph horizontal. Newport Test Labs measured the sensitivity of the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary as being 86.5dBSPL at one metre for a 2.83Veq input, which is a touch lower than the average for all speakers, so I’d suggest that you use an amplifier with an output power rating of at least 60 or 70-watts per channel to drive

them… unless you have a small room and listen at lower levels, in which case 40–50-watts would likely be sufficient. Looking back at the conclusion I drew about the Harbeth Monitor 30.1 after examining its test results, I wrote that it ‘was a very well-designed loudspeaker, with a higher efficiency than I would have expected for its size and driver configuration.’ I am going to say exactly the same thing about this Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary model, but add the note that its measured frequency responses are superior to those which Newport Test Labs measured for the Harbeth Monitor 30.1, and the efficiency is identical. Steven Holding

Australian Hi-Fi 29


THOR 10.6 SUBWOOFER

B

ig is bad, ports are poxy and vinyl sucks. These are the three things Richter’s managing director, Brian Rogers, discovered when he went on a tour of Australian hi-fi retailers. He was asking them about subwoofers, of course, and the consensus was that their customers wanted subwoofers that were small, they didn’t like bass reflex ports to be visible, and they didn’t like vinyl finishes (due to problems with the vinyl splitting and peeling at the corners, according to Rogers). So when he returned from his road trip, he asked his Senior Engineer, Dr Martin Gosnell, to start developing a brand-new Richter subwoofer, one that was smaller and lighter than the company’s award-winning Thor MkV, and to make sure it was either a sealed design, or if it had to have one or more bass reflex ports, that customers wouldn’t be able to see them, and that Gosnell could specify any finish he liked, so long as it wasn’t vinyl. Oh, it would be good if he could squeeze in a more power-

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Australian Hi-Fi

The arrival of the new Thor 10.6 proves that Gosnell met the design brief. It’s 20 per cent smaller than the Thor MkV, 30 per cent lighter, and its amplifier is rated at 450-watts, compared to the 300-watt amplifier inside the MkV. Importantly, you can’t see the twin (tuneable!) bass reflex ports (at least you can’t if you leave the loudspeaker grille fitted) and, miracle of miracles, there’s no vinyl to be seen, just a very classy matte-painted surface that’s so black it’s probably the same finish that was used on Hotblack Desiato’s stunt ship. (You know, the one Zaphod Beeblebrox ‘borrowed.’)

THE EQUIPMENT Remove the front grille of the Thor 10.6 and you’ll instantly see this subwoofer’s most imposing feature, a dish-shaped polymer cone with an unusually distinctive neoprene roll surround that was tooled by Richter itself. Richter rates this driver at ‘10-inches’ in diameter, and it’s this ‘10’ that informs the model name: 10.6. The ‘6’ bit shows that it’s part of Richter’s ‘6 Series’. Richter might rate the single front-firing bass driver as a 10-incher (254mm), but my reviewer tape measure put the overall moving diameter of the cone plus roll surround at 226mm. The important diameter, the Thiele/ Small diameter, is 210mm, which puts the effective cone area (Sd) at 346cm².

t would seem that Richter is using one of the other common methods of stating driving diameter, by referencing either the overall diameter of the driver frame, or the distance between the mounting holes in that frame. Ultimately, it’s the cone area that dictates how much air the cone will displace (along with cone travel… or ‘throw’ of course). As you can see from our photograph, the ichter has two bass reflex ports on the front panel. The beauty of having ports on the front, rather than on the side of the cabinet (like some earlier Richter models!) or at the back or underneath the cabinet, is that it means you can recess the subwoofer into a wall—or into a cupboard or cabinet—to completely remove the subwoofer from the istening room. In the case of the Thor 10.6 this will be made easier by the relatively small size of the cabinet, which measures just 442×308×390mm (HWD). Then again, the mall size means you also might think it’s o small in your room that you can hide it somewhere (such as behind a couch or chair) so that there’d be no need to go to such engths… and you’d be right. I have to say that although I am not personally particularly perturbed about the actual physical size of any subwoofer (though my better half certainly is!) I do care about ts shape, as I particularly dislike subwoofers that are as wide as they are high and deep, because I don’t find this squat look very appealing. So I particularly liked the profile of the Thor 10.6, which is higher than it is wide. I also liked the fact that the feet are individually height-adjustable. Although adjustable feet are almost universal on standard loudspeakers, they’re a rarity on subwoofers, which seems to me rather strange, since a floor doesn’t magically ‘flatten out’ just because you’re positioning a subwoofer on it rather than a main loudspeaker. And, just as you don’t want a normal loudspeaker to ‘wobble’, you also do not want a subwoofer to ‘wobble’—indeed it is essential that it is completely stable. But back to those bass reflex ports. Each one is 75mm in diameter and 225mm long, with radiused curves at the exit. They come with tight-fitting grey foam ‘port plugs’ which you can insert to block one or both ports. This allows you to ‘tune’ the sound of the subwoofer to better-suit the size of your room, where you have the subwoofer positioned, what you’re using the subwoofer for (type of music, type of movie etc) and, of course, your own personal tastes. For example, in larger rooms, leaving both ports unplugged will deliver higher sound pressure levels in the 30–100Hz area, but the frequency response will roll off more rapidly below 35Hz than if both ports were plugged. If you plug both ports, the deepest bass frequen-

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


Richter Thor 10.6 Subwoofer

cies (those below 35Hz) will be reproduced at a higher (relative) volume, but the bass between 35Hz and 100Hz will be slightly attenuated. In terms of how the settings will affect the music, the sound will be quicker and punchier with both ports left open, but smoother and more extended with both ports

The Richter Thor 10.6’s low pass filter is not only adjustable, it’s also switchable (or ‘defeatable’, if you prefer this terminology): You can switch it out of circuit by setting the ‘Low Pass’ switch to ‘Off’. Setting this switch to ‘Off’ is recommended if you’re using the LFE output from an AV receiver to provide the subwoofer’s signal, as most AV receivers pre-filter the signal presented at their LFE output. (And you’d also set the volume to ‘REF’ as noted earlier.) Multiple inputs are provided on the Thor 10.6 subwoofer. There are both balanced and unbalanced LFE inputs. The balanced LFE input is a standard XLR socket, while the unbalanced LFE input is the left-channel of the line-inputs. There are also unbalanced line inputs (left and right channels) via RCA terminals. There are also high-level (speaker-level) inputs, accessed via multi-way gold-plated speaker terminals. Speaker-level inputs are now a rarity on subwoofers, but they’re extremely useful if you want to use the subwoofer with an ordinary stereo amplifier that has neither LFE nor line-level outputs. Even if your stereo amplifier does have line-level outputs (or pre-out or a record-out terminals… all are suitable for driving a subwoofer), it’s often

When they coined the phrase ɽǜŘˁǜŘȭƞǜƬʁʁǔǞƋɻƙǜǒƬ˿ƋɁˁǚƞ ˹ƬǚǚǒŘ˸ƬŽƬƬȭǜŘǚǘǔȭǷŘŽɁˁǜ the Richter Thor 10.6…

blocked. Blocking only one port will provide a middle ground between the two. Turning our attention to the rear panel of the Richter Thor 10.6 we find a large and impressive plate that has more features than I am used to finding on a subwoofer, and better-quality fittings as well. Looking at the features first, the Thor 10.6 has the usual rotary volume level and crossover controls (with the crossover control handily marked with calibrations at 10Hz intervals from 40Hz to 90Hz, with additional calibrations at 140Hz and 160Hz). But the volume control also has a setting marked ‘REF’. Richter’s Owner’s Manual doesn’t explain this, so we asked Richter, and were told that ‘REF’ should be used when the Thor 10.6 is being set up and controlled from a home theatre amplifier or receiver. In this case the volume should be set to REF and then volume controlled from that amplifier or receiver. The Thor 10.6 has equalisation built in, switchable between three modes: ‘Music’, ‘Merlin’ and ‘Home Theatre’. The ‘Music’ and ‘Home Theatre’ modes are self-explanatory. The ‘Merlin’ mode apparently perfectly matches the frequency response of the Thor 10.6 to that of Richter’s Merlin loudspeakers. The somewhat flowery prose in the Owner’s Manual puts it thus, and is here reproduced verbatim: ‘Merlin mode has been exactly tailored to allow a seamless audio experience from Merlin’s tight bass response deep down by approximately and additional 1.5 octaves. The phase and magnitude response has been matched specifically so that you can combine these two products as the perfect complement allowing you to cover the entire audio and subsonic spectrum with no compromise. Setup together you will experience performance usually only found in the very highest quality active integrated loudspeaker systems, you will experience an extraordinary new sense of dimensionality and atmosphere without compromising musically, transient emotional content, detail or a sense of point source.’

preferable to use the speaker level terminals, then connect your main speakers to the ‘To Speakers’ terminals on the Thor 10.6. With this wiring arrangement, the Thor 10.6 ‘strips’ the low frequencies from the signal going to your main speakers, relieving them from any low-bass duties, which will improve their performance as a direct result. The Richter Thor 10.6 also has a ‘Pass Through’ output that allows you to ‘daisy-chain’ multiple subwoofers to improve performance. When you use only a single subwoofer in a room, the volume of the sound will vary throughout the room depending on where the listener is sitting because of room modes. By using two (or even more!) subwoofers in a room—but they must be positioned at different points in the room for this trick to work—it’s possible to ‘even out’ these variations, so the volume is the same no matter where you sit. In most cases, a single subwoofer will suffice if only one or two people are listening and they’re seated close together. It’s only when multiple listeners are spaced in different places in a room that multiple subwoofers might become necessary. I was pleased to find that the Richter Thor 10.6 has multiple power switches. There’s a main power switch, so you can switch the amplifier off completely, effectively isolating it from the mains power, plus there’s a secondary power switch so you can choose between having the subwoofer power-up


ON TEST

automatically when it detects an audio signal, and switch to standby at other times, or you can have the amplifier powered-up all the time. Richter has very sensibly named the two modes ‘Auto’ and ‘Always On’. Although the subwoofer loaned to me for review had a matte-black finish, which I’ve already discussed, you can optionally order the Thor 10.6 in a matte white finish. However, if you do this, be aware that the front grille cloth will still be black.

LISTENING SESSIONS As with any subwoofer, for it to perform at its best it is absolutely essential that the subwoofer be correctly positioned in your listening room and that its volume, crossover frequency and phase controls are set so that the output of the subwoofer integrates smoothly with the output of your main speakers. Richter’s excellent 20-page instruction manual (the information is excellent, but I found the type rather too small for us vision-impaired types) has outstandingly good advice about all of this, but my advice is to work out where the subwoofer should be positioned in your room by following the specific procedure outlined in this article: www.tinyurl. com/subwoofer-placement and that you should then tune the Thor 10.6 using the specific procedure outlined here: www. tinyurl.com/subwoofer-calibration That’s what I did, and the result was that the Richter Thor 10.6 sounded amazing in my living room! OK, so the Thor 10.6 was the major reason for the amazing sound, but the tuning certainly helped! When I say that the Thor 10.6 sounded amazing, a large part of my amazement was that I simply wasn’t expecting such a small subwoofer—and one with a relatively small bass driver—to deliver such prodigious levels of deep bass. This thing really kicks arse. And it’s not only kick-arse bass, the bass it produces is as tight as a fishes… well, let’s not spell it out in a family magazine. Suffice to say that when they coined the phrase ‘taut and terrific’, they could well have been talking about the Thor 10.6. Listen to kickdrum for example and you’ll hear the Richter deliver the perfect sound of the beater head smacking the drum skin: depthy, realistic and with the lower frequency of the full skin stretch hitting you in the stomach while the higher-frequency harmonics provide the fill. If you’re into percussion trivia, you might be interested in learning that the bass drum pedal mechanism that drives the beater head was invented by brothers William and Theobald Ludwig in 1909. Their American company, Ludwig & Ludwig (they hailed from Germany, after all) was an extraordinarily successful manufacturer of bass drums as a result, so by 1923 it was the largest drum

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Australian Hi-Fi

manufacturer in the world. Despite this, sales really didn’t take off until a little band called The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, with the word ‘Ludwig’ emblazoned on Ringo’s bass drum. This single appearance literally doubled Ludwig’s sales, forcing them to switch to seven day, 24-hour production to keep up, and Ludwig would thereafter dominate drum sales in North America for the next twenty years. Although it’s still in business, Ludwig is no longer the largest drum manufacturer in the world, but it’s certainly the most famous, and by mere happenstance the timing of this review (2018) co-incides with the 100th anniversary of Theobald’s death (he was one of the 50 to 100 million victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918). Impressive though the Richter’s performance with kick drum is, it’s equally impressive with other low-pitched instruments that regularly appear in most musical groups— double-bass, cello, bass guitar, and keyboards (acoustic and electronic). Firstly, the bass is ‘pitch perfect’, as they say, so that when a bass guitarist strikes the bottom string of his four-string electric bass, what you hear from the Richter is a beautifully rich-sounding ‘E1’ with a very obvious fundamental frequency of 41.203Hz, and not what you often hear from a subwoofer, which is a sound that primarily consists of the ‘E’ the octave above, at 82.406Hz… which, although it sounds fine

and very musical, is also very wrong, because the pitch of E2 should actually be 82.407Hz, because we’re talking about the tempered scale here. The beautiful sound of the bottom string of the bass remains faithfully delivered even if the guitarist has tuned it to D, which is common for songs in the keys of D or G, because it makes playing the bass easier… it also helps if you play a lot of Pink Floyd! But it’s not only the fundamentals that are precisely and accurately reproduced by the Richter 10.6, it’s also the harmonics, which is essential in order to enable instant recognition of, say, the sound of a Fender Precision bass versus the sound of a Rickenbacker 4001, though most people will be more easily able to pick the musician playing it—in this case maybe Steve Harris versus Peter Buck, for example. The harmonic rendition of the Richter Thor 10.6 is perfect, with the frequency of the harmonics delivered exactly… as well as the levels of those harmonics. Outstanding performance indeed. Distortion is exceeding low. Listening to my favourite performance of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No 3 (Steve Isserlis with Robert Levin on Fortepiano, available on Hyperion), the aural clarity of both instruments is stunning, and the contrasts between them achingly revealed, and most appropriately both are given equal sonic weight, as the performers (and no doubt the composer!) intended.

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


Richter Thor 10.6 Subwoofer

Cello sound is glorious no matter what’s being played, but one that I always recommend to friends asking about cello is Elgar’s superb Cello Concerto in E minor. Listen to this on a lesser subwoofer and you may wonder if you’re hearing a human voice, but listening via the Richter 10.6, there is no room for doubt. I don’t think the great Jacqueline Du Pre would be my first choice for either performance or sound quality, but she’s certainly my sentimental favourite, so for this work, emotion trumps both performance and sound quality, with the steely Maria Kliegel’s performance coming in a close second. Recognising that many readers of this review will be primarily looking to purchase a subwoofer to enhance their enjoyment of movie soundtracks, with music as a secondary reason, I also evaluated the Richter 10.6 in a five-channel home theatre system (I’d like to go Atmos, but my better half told me six loudspeakers in our smallish family room—though I like to call it my home theatre room—were more than enough). Watching movies, I was impressed by the speed and stopping power of the Richter 10.6, as well as its ability to deliver the very lowest sounds on my Blu-rays. The ‘depthiness’ is certainly enough to rattle furniture and create an intensely powerful sound field in the listening room, no matter whether you’re experiencing a pitched battle, a factory scene or just the director injecting low-frequency FX to generate tension in the audience. Now you’re probably imagining that I used the ‘Home Theatre’ mode when watching movies, but you’d be wrong. I did switch to the Home Theatre mode when I first started watching, but I wasn’t convinced by the sound I was getting so I experimented with the other modes and interestingly enough, found that in my home theatre system, which has fairly small front speakers, I preferred the overall sound when the subwoofer was set for ‘Merlin Mode’ and both ports were unplugged. Also interesting is that when I was using the Richter 10.6 in my main system, I preferred the ‘Music Mode’ equalisation, but with the ports plugged when I was listening to classical music and unplugged when I was listening to anything else. This might sound like a bit of a bother, but it only takes a few moments to plug or unplug the ports, and mostly I listen to either one type of music or the other in any one listening session… I tend not to chop and change between the two genres, so it took only a few seconds of my time per day to make the switch… though admittedly I had not bothered to fit the grille, so the switching process was quicker than it would have been if I had.

CONCLUSION Aussie company Richter has succeeded where most other subwoofer manufacturers have not. It’s managed to build a small subwoofer that doesn’t sound small at all, exhibiting marvellously deep bass performance, with tuneful, rhythmic musical delivery and superbly low levels of distortion. Even if it didn’t have the extraordinarily high level of connectivity, multiple EQ modes and classy finish the Richter 10.6 would have been on my short list. But because it does have all these extras, it elevated itself right to Samuel White the top of that list. Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Richter 10.6 Subwoofer should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on the following pages. Results displayed in the graphs and associated comments about those results should be construed as applying only to the sample tested.

CONTACT DETAILS Brand: Richter Model: Thor 10.6 RRP: $1,499 Warranty: Two Years Distributor: Richter Audio Pty Ltd Address: PO Box 231 Church Point NSW 2015 T2: (02) 4962 1594 E: info@richteraudio.com.au W: www.richter audio.com.au • Amazing bass! • Connectivity • EQ modes • Two colour choices • Single grille colour

LABORATORY TEST REPORT Graph 1 shows the effect of bungs and low-pass filter on the near-field frequency response of the Richter 10.6 subwoofer’s bass driver. The black trace shows the driver’s response when both bungs are fitted, the blue trace shows the driver’s response when only one bung is fitted, and the red trace shows the driver’s response when no bungs are fitted. The trace also shows the difference between the response when the low-pass filter is out of circuit (black and blue traces) and when it’s in circuit, but set to its maximum crossover frequency of 160Hz. You can see

LAB REPORT

that when the low-pass filter is active, the high-frequency response rolls off at around 18dB per octave above 150Hz, whereas when the low-pass filter is defeated, the natural roll-off of the driver is at a much more leisurely 12dB per octave. The traces show that when one bung is fitted, the cabinet is tuned to 30Hz and when both ports are left open, the tuning is 43Hz. The output of the ports is shown in Graph 4. In Graph 2, Newport Test Labs has shown the effect of the three equalisation curves on the near-field response of the Richter 10.6’s bass driver when both ports are plugged and the low-pass filter is not in circuit. The ‘Music Mode’ equalisation results in the flattest and most extended response, with the frequency response extending from 20Hz to 220Hz ±4dB, as you can see from the black trace. In ‘Merlin Mode’ (blue trace) the Richter 10.6’s high-frequency response is rolled off above 60Hz at around 12dB/octave, and the very low-frequency response is given a little added extension below 20Hz. The ‘Home Theatre Mode’ equalisation delivers maximum output at 60–70Hz, but is rolled off above and below these frequencies, at around 30dB per octave below 60Hz and at around 12dB per octave above 70Hz, so the response is around 45Hz to 140Hz ±4dB and, as you can see, is the least flat of all the responses. Graph 3 shows the Richter 10.6’s response in Music Mode with both ports unplugged. You see the bass driver’s low-frequency response (the black and blue traces) rolling off below 70Hz to the minima at 43Hz, before rising to peak at around 22Hz before rolling off again. The red trace shows the output of the two bass reflex ports, and you can see that the ports start contributing to the output at 15Hz and are fully operational at 22Hz, after which the output is linear until 65Hz, where it starts rolling off, neatly intersecting with the roll-on of the bass driver. Note that the blue trace was measured with the low-pass filter in circuit and set to 160Hz, and the black trace was with the low-pass filter out of circuit. Graph 4 also shows the Richter 10.6’s response in Music Mode but this time shows the difference between operating the subwoofer with both ports unplugged (the black traces, with the solid trace being the near-field response of the bass driver, and the dashed trace the near-field response of the port) and with only one port plugged (the green traces, with the solid trace being the near-field response of the bass driver, and the dashed trace the near-field response of the port). You can see the cabinet seems better-tuned when

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Richter Thor 10.6 Subwoofer

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Graph 1.hʁƬɴˁƬȭƋ˿ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjõǔƋǒǜƬʁɍ̋ƖȴăˁŽ˹ɁɁnjƬʁʊǒɁ˹ǔȭǷƬǏƬƋǜɁnjŽˁȭǷʊ ŘȭƞǚɁ˹ȊɡŘʊʊǞǚǜƬʁƖ*ɁǜǒŽˁȭǷʊǔȭʊǜŘǚǚƬƞɤŽǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬɦʒɁȭƬŽˁȭǷǔȭʊǜŘǚǚƬƞɤŽǚˁƬ ǜʁŘƋƬɦʒȭɁŽˁȭǷʊɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦƖ³Ɂ˹ȊɡŘʊʊǞǚǜƬʁɁǏɤ*ǚŘƋǘŘȭƞŽǚˁƬǜʁŘƋƬʊɦʒǚɁ˹ȊɡŘʊʊ ǞǚǜƬʁɁȭƙ³ñhȧŘ˾ɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦƖ 110

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Graph 3.hʁƬɴˁƬȭƋ˿ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjõǔƋǒǜƬʁɍ̋ƖȴăˁŽ˹ɁɁnjƬʁǔȭÀˁʊǔƋÀɁƞƬƙʊǒɁ˹ǔȭǷ ɁˁǜɡˁǜɁnjŽŘʊʊʁƬǡƬ˾ɡɁʁǜʊ˹ǔǜǒȭɁŽˁȭǷʊǔȭʊǜŘǚǚƬƞɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦʒȭƬŘʁǞƬǚƞƞʁǔ˸Ƭʁ ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬ˹ǔǜǒɁˁǜǚɁ˹ȊɡŘʊʊǞǚǜƬʁɤŽǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬɦŘȭƞȭƬŘʁǞƬǚƞƞʁǔ˸ƬʁʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬ˹ǔǜǒ ǚɁ˹ɡŘʊʊǞǚǜƬʁʊƬǜŘǜȧŘ˾ǔȧˁȧɤŽǚˁƬǜʁŘƋƬɦƖ 110

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Graph 5.ÂƬŘʁǞƬǚƞʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjŽŘʊʊƞʁǔ˸Ƭʁ˹ǔǜǒŽɁǜǒɡɁʁǜʊɡǚˁǷǷƬƞƖ*ǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬ ǔʊ˹ǔǜǒǚɁ˹ɡŘʊʊǞǚǜƬʁʊƬǜǜɁȧŘ˾ǔȧˁȧɤɍȴ̋Œ˘ɦƙʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬǔʊ˹ǔǜǒǚɁ˹ɡŘʊʊǞǚǜƬʁʊƬǜ ǜɁʕ̋Œ˘ƙǷʁƬƬȭǜʁŘƋƬǔʊ˹ǔǜǒǚɁ˹ɡŘʊʊǞǚǜƬʁʊƬǜǜɁȧǔȭǔȧˁȧɤǮ̋Œ˘ɦƖƅõǔƋǒǜƬʁɍ̋Ɩȴ Subwoofer.]

both ports are unplugged than when just a single port is plugged. The low-pass filter’s action is shown in Graph 5 for three settings of the low-pass filter control, with the Richter 10.6 operating with both ports plugged. Again we see that with the low-pass filter set at maximum (black trace), the near-field response is 20Hz to 220Hz ±4dB. With the low-pass filter set at its minimum point (40Hz, red trace) the

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Graph 4.ÂƬŘʁǞƬǚƞnjʁƬɴˁƬȭƋ˿ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjõǔƋǒǜƬʁɍ̋ƖȴʊˁŽ˹ɁɁnjƬʁƖ<ŘʊǒƬƞŽǚŘƋǘ ǜʁŘƋƬǔʊɡɁʁǜʊ˹ǔǜǒɁˁǜɡǚˁǷʊƙƞŘʊǒƬƞǷʁƬƬȭǜʁŘƋƬǔʊɡɁʁǜ˹ǔǜǒɁǜǒƬʁɡɁʁǜɡǚˁǷǷƬƞƖ *ǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬǔʊȭƬŘʁǞƬǚƞ˹ɁɁnjƬʁʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬ˹ǔǜǒȭɁɡɁʁǜɡǚˁǷʊƙǷʁƬƬȭǜʁŘƋƬǔʊȭƬŘʁǞƬǚƞ woofer response with one port plugged.

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Graph 2.hʁƬɴˁƬȭƋ˿ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjõǔƋǒǜƬʁɍ̋ƖȴăˁŽ˹ɁɁnjƬʁʊǒɁ˹ǔȭǷƬǏƬƋǜɁnjƞǔǏƬʁƬȭǜFóȧɁƞƬʊƖŒɁȧƬǜǒƬŘǜʁƬȧɁƞƬɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦʒÀˁʊǔƋȧɁƞƬɤŽǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬɦʒÀƬʁǚǔȭ ȧɁƞƬɤŽǚˁƬǜʁŘƋƬɦƖ

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Graph 6.hŘʁȊǞƬǚƞnjʁƬɴˁƬȭƋ˿ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjõ“ƋǒǜƬʁɍ̋ƖȴʊˁŽ˹ɁɁnjƬʁȧƬŘʊˁʁƬƞˁʊǔȭǷ ɡǔȭǘȭɁǔʊƬǜƬʊǜʊǔǷȭŘǚƖÀˁʊǔƋȧɁƞƬƙɡɁʁǜʊɡǚˁǷǷƬƞƙŽǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬ˹ǔǜǒ³ñhɁǏƙʁƬƞ ǜʁŘƋƬ˹ǔǜǒ³ñhʊƬǜŘǜɍȴ̋Œ˘ɤȧŘ˾ɦƙŽǚˁƬǜʁŘƋƬ˹ǔǜǒ³ñhʊƬǜŘǜǮ̋Œ˘ɤȧǔȭɦƖ

Richter 10.6’s response extends from 17Hz to 51Hz ±4dB. When the low-pass filter is set to 70Hz, the response extends from 18Hz to 120Hz ±4dB. The far-field in-room frequency response of the Richter 10.6 subwoofer is shown in Graph 6. With the low-pass filter set at its minimum (40Hz) setting, Newport Test Labs measured the frequency response of the Richter 10.6 subwoofer as 15Hz to 68Hz

±3dB. With the low-pass filter set at 160Hz (maximum), the frequency response of the Richter 10.6 was measured as extending from 24Hz to 220Hz ±3dB. Finally, Newport Test Labs measured the response without the lowpass filter in circuit (black trace) as 26Hz to 260kHz ±3dB. As you can see, the Richter 10.6 returned outstanding results in all Newport Test Labs’ Steve Holding laboratory tests.

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


ON TEST

DYNAUDIO SPECIAL FORTY LOUDSPEAKERS

D

ynaudio has a tradition of marking momentous occasions in its history by producing special editions of its loudspeakers. Yes, I know many manufacturers do this, but Danish manufacturer Dynaudio has been building speakers for so long that it now has a quite a few ‘specials’ in its catalogue… and back-catalogue. The ‘Special One’ closed off the company’s first decade in business. The ‘Special Twenty-Five’ was designed and built in 2002 for Dynaudio’s 25 anniversary, and the ‘Sapphire’ was commissioned for the company’s thirtieth anniversary. So by now you should have guessed that the Special Forty was built to commemorate Dynaudio’s 40th anniversary, in 2017. But is there anything particularly special about this model other than it was built as an anniversary edition and is likely to become a collectable model? I just had to find out…

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THE EQUIPMENT Fully designed and engineered in Dynaudio Labs, the Special 40 is built right across the road from those laboratories in the company’s own factory in Skanderborg. It continues the tradition of high-quality stand-mount designs—not super-compact, being a medium-sized speaker 36cm high and 31cm deep without counting protuberances—but certainly very room-friendly. And while Dynaudio is currently creating an ongoing series of active and wireless models for the new age of streaming audio, that’s not the ‘focus’ of the Special Forty—this is a firmly traditional passive loudspeaker… no built-in electronics at all—if you don’t count the crossover network, that is! Indeed Dynaudio says its goal here was to revisit the company’s 40 years of innovation and bring it all together in the light of everything it has learned since. I liked Dynaudio’s description of its Special Forty as ‘our greatest hits… re-imagined, remixed, remastered...’

One key approach has been to deliver a tweeter with an extended response not so much upwards (the –3dB point is quoted at 23kHz) but significantly downwards into the midrange, as low as 1kHz, while the woofer is engineered to extend upwards as far as 4kHz. That creates a natural crossover between the two drivers, while one of the benefits of designing its own drivers is that Dynaudio’s tweeter and woofer also deliver as similar tonality and dispersion as the physics of the varying frequencies allow. So Dynaudio’s preferred first-order crossover circuit need only apply mild slopes and simple circuitry to achieve the desired impedance and phase alignment. As the company says: ‘why manipulate the musical signal to make the drivers gel, when you can make better drivers in the first place?’ Up top, then, is the Esotar Forty tweeter, currently unique to this model, a 28mm soft-dome diaphragm, the coating of which, applied in variable thicknesses for maximum performance, is described as ‘DSR’, apparently

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


Dynaudio Special Forty Loudspeakers

a tongue-in-cheek initialisation denoting ‘Dynaudio Secret Recipe’. Behind the diaphragm is a new magnet and venting system designed to relieve the dome from back-pressure.

because these are not age rings, as you might think—they are too straight and uniform, for one thing. Rather multiple layers of birch wood have been coloured and compressed into blocks before being sliced sideways to produce this striping effect. Heaven knows how it all stays together; I salute the craftspeople who achieved the effect, prior to the piano lacquer being applied. Although my review models were supplied in grey birch, as I’ve noted, another finish is available: a high-gloss red birch. Both are finishes that Dynaudio says it has never used before and are exclusive to this model.

The thrilling speed of the bass delivery from the Dynaudio Special Forties was immediately evident

Improved damping material is also used to absorb rear radiation, with the result of reduced resonances and improved speed and accuracy. Although this tweeter was designed and built specifically for the Special Forty, its design is based on the Esotar2 tweeter that is used in some other Dynaudio models. The bass/midrange driver is described by the company as ‘the ultimate incarnation of our legendary 17W75 MSP woofer’. In this case the initialisation is not tongue-in-cheek, but used to indicate that the 170-mm diameter cone is made from Dynaudio’s exclusive ‘magnesium silicate polymer’, which benefits from all the stability and strength of attachment of a one-piece design, held in place with the company’s ‘AirFlow’ chassis and with a hybrid neodymium/ferrite magnetic system that’s inside, rather than outside, the voice coil. Not that you’d know from looking at the front baffle, but the Dynaudio Special Forty is a bass reflex design, and the port is rear-firing, located above a small and robust connections panel that houses a solid pair of binding posts good for spades, bananas or bare wire. Each port comes with a bung to allow you to ‘tune’ the speaker for your personal preference, room size and speaker position. Blocking off the port essentially turns the bass reflex enclosure into a sealed one. You can also ‘half-block’ the port by removing a central portion of the bung, about which more later. The speakers loaned for review were finished in a luxurious high-gloss grey birch finish and, as is invariably the case with Dynaudio models, the first thing to impress was the immaculate build quality and finish—the deep gloss of the varnish, and here the way the wide stripes of the birch flow around from the chamfered baffle to the side walls without a hint of a join, and then over the top, so that the baffle and top grains meet at 90 degrees. The stripes of the veneer vary quite dramatically in colour on the grey version

LISTENING SESSIONS The thrilling speed of the bass delivery from the Dynaudio Special Forties was immediately evident when spinning David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ LP, a recording only seven years younger than Dynaudio itself. On China Girl there’s not a nanosecond of overhang to the Carmine Rojas bass line, and it’s tuneful too, with every note of its busy run over the intro and closing defined in tone and shape, solidly underpinning Omar Hakim’s spare 80s’ beat, and Bowie impeccably imaged and unimpeded by the surrounding flow.

And the dynamics! The Who’s ‘Tommy’ (24/96) came crashing in, the entry of 1921 making me near-jump out of my seat with its entry, so sharp and powerful an impulse did the Dynaudios deliver. IQ’s Mellotron-laden 1312 Overture combined snapping snare and octave-leaping bass over multiple layers of choir and synths can swamp lesser speakers—here everything was swirling and spreading through real space both between the speakers and apparently beyond. An ability to deliver depth of field was enjoyably revealed in a Philip Glass Ensemble strings piece from the ‘Mishimi’ soundtrack (1934: Grandmother & Kimitake), also thrillingly rich in tone. The resulting combination of clarity, detail and control was nicely displayed by Angus & Julia Stone’s Grizzly Bear and its opening combination of clicky guitar and reverbed Rhodes before the beat and bass kick in. Open and wide is this Rick Rubin soundscape through the Special Forties: Angus front and real, Julia placed slightly behind in soulful support, then split to ping-pong sides for the delightful ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’s’. While enjoyable at lower volume levels, these speakers beg to be turned up, and of course benefit from decent amplification to fully open the available dynamics and slam, and to deliver that bass to its full effect. Their claimed sensitivity is only average at 86dB/W/m (but see our test report on the following pages), while they’re given a nominal

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ON TEST

LAB REPORT

impedance of 6Ω (confirmed during testing), so they don’t need an absolute beast of an amplifier to drive them, though you should invest in adequate power to have them deliver their best; the large reserves of a Classé integrated amp in this case bringing them thrillingly on song. I also experimented with different speaker positions, and clarity was certainly highest with the speakers in a good amount of free space, some metre or more out from any walls on stands that put their tweeters at my seated ear height. If you need them further back, there’s some bass tuning available from those foam bungs I mentioned that are supplied for the bass ports—either full bunged or with centres removed to tame any rear reflections that might muddy rather than support their balance. I just kept them out in free space, toed-in, their sound easily filling a medium or even medium-to-large space, although these are speakers with such brilliance of imaging and dynamics that they are best appreciated in reasonably close proximity, where they can fully weave their magic.

Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Dynaudio Special Forty Loudspeakers should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on the following pages. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/or displayed using graphs and/ or photographs should be construed as applying Ɂȭǚ˿ǜɁǜǒƬʊɡƬƋǔǞƋʊŘȧɡǚƬǜƬʊǜƬƞƖ

CONCLUSION Dynaudio has been sensible to finish these speakers so strikingly in sliced birch, as the unusual finish draws attention to their similarly high level of design and performance. The Special Forty is an exceptional standmount worthy of its anniversary status, with dynamics, tone and imaging highest on their long list of strengths. Put them into a high-quality system, and hear Jez Ford how they sing.

CONTACT DETAILS Brand: Dynaudio Model: Special Forty RRP: $4,499 per pair Warranty: Five Years Distributorƕ*ˁʊǔăɁǢÄĴñǜ˿³ǜƞ Address: 158 Christmas Street hŘǔʁǞƬǚƞĴ“,ʯ̋ʕƶ TFƕ ɍʯ̋̋ƶƶƶȴ̋ʹ T2ƕ ɤ̋ʯɦȳƶɍ̋ʹȳ̋̋ Eƕ ǔȭnjɁźŽˁʊǔʊɁǢƖƋɁȧƖŘˁ Wƕ ˹˹˹ƖŽˁʊǔʊɁǢƖƋɁȧƖŘˁ

Ɗ Highly musical Ɗ Thrilling imaging and staging Ɗ “ȧȧŘƋˁǚŘǜƬǞȭǔʊǒ Ɗ Not bi-wireable Ɗ ď˹ɁǞȭǔʊǒƬʊɁȭǚ˿ Ɗ Best with high-quality power

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Australian Hi-Fi

LABORATORY TEST REPORT Newport Test Labs measured the frequency response of the Dynaudio Special Forty as extending from 45Hz to 20kHz ±3dB. This is the response shown in Graph 1. The section of the trace below 2kHz is the averaged result of nine individual frequency sweeps measured at three metres, with the central grid point on-axis with the tweeter using pink noise test stimulus and with the capture unsmoothed other than by the averaging process itself. This trace has been manually spliced (at 2kHz) via post-processing to the gated high-frequency response, an expanded view of which is shown in Graph 2. You can see that the response is not only spectrally balanced (no tilts or skews in any direction), but across the midrange it is particularly flat, essentially extending from 90Hz to 14kHz ±1.25dB. Graph 2 not only shows the high-frequency performance of the Dynaudio Special Forty in greater detail, it also shows the difference in the frequency response depending on whether you’re listening with the grille on (black trace) or the grille off (red trace).

You can immediately see that the high-frequency response is flatter without the grille than with it fitted. When the grille is in place, there’s a peak in the response at 4kHz, then small suck-outs at 3.2kHz and 6.5kHz. Up at 15kHz, where there’s already a little suck-out in the tweeter’s response, the presence of the grille makes it a little deeper. In Graph 3 Newport Test Labs has measured the near-field low frequency response of the bass/midrange driver when the port is open (bass-reflex tuning, shown by the black trace) and when the port is blocked off (infinite baffle tuning; green trace). The output of the port itself is shown by the red trace. (All nearfield acquisitions.) You can see that no matter what tuning you use, the output of the bass/ midrange driver starts rolling off below about 125Hz. As theory predicts, it rolls off smoothly but only gradually at around 12dB per octave when the port is blocked, but rather more rapidly (24dB per octave) when the port is open, though in this case the output of the port compensates for the lack of output from the driver. You can see the port’s output peak at 47Hz does not quite correspond with the driver’s minima at 50Hz, presumably the result of some small compromise to get the cabinet to work well with the triple tuning possibilities (open, plugged, half-plugged). The different tunings are also evident on the measurement of the Dynaudio Special Forty’s impedance, which is shown in Graph 4. The red trace shows the classic bass reflex ‘double hump’ with the saddle at exactly 50Hz. The resonant peaks are at 34Hz and 80Hz, and both only a tad above 30Ω. When the port is closed, there’s just a single resonant peak at 70Hz that tops out at 39Ω. The impedance drops below 5Ω at 20Hz and between 150Hz and 220Hz, but is otherwise mostly above 7Ω. However those excursions below 5Ω mean that the Dynaudio Special Forty should be classified as a nominally 6Ω design… which is exactly what Dynaudio has done. The impedance at very high frequencies is heading downwards. An upwards tilt would have been preferable, but since the impedance is still a high-ish 6.5Ω at 40kHz, it’s unlikely to bother any well-designed amplifier. The phase angle (blue trace) is well-controlled. The composite graph (Graph 6) superimposes the various measurements and extends the measurement range for two of them, so here you can see that the tweeter keeps on rolling off above 20kHz and has a tiny resonance at 26kHz, and that the port has a fairly large resonance at 700Hz. I doubt this would be audible, but in the case of the Dynaudio Special Forty you could check for yourself by placing the speakers side by side, blocking the

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Dynaudio Special Forty Loudspeakers

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Graph 2. High-frequency response, expanded view showing response without ǷʁǔǚǚƬǞǜǜƬƞɤŽǚŘƋǘǜʁŘƋƬɦŘȭƞ˹ǔǜǒǷʁǔǚǚƬǔȭɡǚŘƋƬɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦƖďƬʊǜʊǜǔȧˁǚˁʊǷŘǜƬƞʊǔȭƬƖ Microphone placed at three metres on-axis with dome tweeter. Lower measurement limit 500Hz.

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Graph 3.³Ɂ˹njʁƬɴˁƬȭƋ˿ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɁnjnjʁɁȭǜȊǞʁǔȭǷŽŘʊʊʁƬǡƬ˾ɡɁʁǜɤʁƬƞǜʁŘƋƬɦŘȭƞ woofer when port is open (blue trace) and when port is closed (green trace). NearǞƬǚƞŘƋɴˁǔʊǔǜǔɁȭƖñɁʁǜʤ˹ɁɁnjƬʁǚƬ˸ƬǚʊȭɁǜƋɁȧɡƬȭʊŘǜƬƞnjɁʁƞǔǏƬʁƬȭƋƬʊǔȭʁŘƞǔŘǜǔȭǷ areas. 110

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Graph 4. Impedance modulus of Dynaudio Special 40 loudspeaker with port open (red trace) and closed (green trace) plus phase (blue trace) with port open. Black trace under is reference 4 ohm precision calibration resistor.

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Graph 5. Averaged frequency response using pink noise test stimulus with capture unsmoothed. Trace is the averaged results of nine individual frequency sweeps measured at three metres, with the central grid point on-axis with the tweeter. Upper measurement limited at 10kHz.

port of only one of them, and then feeding both speakers the same monophonic signal with content at this frequency. If you can hear a difference, choose the tuning with the sound you most like. Dynaudio specifies the Special Forty has having a sensitivity of 86dBSPL but does not state all its measurement criteria. Newport Test Labs reported its test sample of the Special

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Graph 6.,ɁȧɡɁʊǔǜƬʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬɡǚɁǜƖõƬƞǜʁŘƋƬǔʊɁˁǜɡˁǜɁnjŽŘʊʊʁƬǡƬ˾ɡɁʁǜƖ³ǔǷǒǜ blue trace is anechoic response of bass driver. Black trace is frequency response from Graph 1.

Forty as having a sensitivity of 83.5dBSPL at one metre for a 2.83Veq input, when using pink noise as the stimulus. This correlated quite nicely with a measurement of the Special Forty made by Canada’s National Acoustic Laboratory, which reported it as being 83.5dBSPL (averaged 300Hz to 3kHz, re 2.83V/1m). It also correlates with about what I’d expect from a loudspeaker of the Special Forty’s size

and frequency response. It’s low enough that you should try to use a more powerful amplifier than you might otherwise have considered, but I’d imagine 100-watts per channel would be more than sufficient. Overall, the Dynaudio Special Forty returned exemplary performance in Newport Test Labs’ suite of acoustic and electrical Steve Holding measurements.

Australian Hi-Fi

39


MICROMEGA M-100 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER/DAC/STREAMER

M

icromega’s M-100 Integrated Amplifier is very obviously not your ordinary integrated amplifier. This isn’t only because it’s not just an integrated amplifier, but also a DAC and a Streamer. It’s also because it’s the wrong size, the wrong shape and doesn’t have the usual array of controls you’d expect to find on an integrated amplifier. So what was this famously French company thinking when it brain-stormed this design?

THE EQUIPMENT Whatever they were thinking, one thing is absolutely certain, and that’s that the designers were thinking outside the square… a long, long way outside the square… thinking, maybe, of a flattened rectangle, or an activity aid at an aerobics step class. I suspect that when you see your first M-100, you’ll either love the look, or hate it. To help you love it, the M-100 is available in a myriad of finishes. The standard finishes are black or silver anodised aluminium (an obvious offering, as the M-100 is machined from a single block of the stuff, however Micromega has a ‘Micromega Custom Finish’ (MCF) program in place which allows you to specify any finish you want… you can even have it covered in leather if you like. In a conversation with Micromega’s Adrien Hamdi, he revealed that at present, painted finishes are the most popular option (though, mind you, it’s an option that adds $1,800 to the current RRP), with Micromega able to

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Australian Hi-Fi

paint the M-100 any colour from the central European RAL colour chart. Reckoning that its French customers will own French loudspeakers, Micromega also offers to match Focal’s Black Lacquer, Carrara White, Imperial Red, Electric Orange and Bleu Nogaro loudspeakers. (This isn’t just a patriotic offer, it’s also a commercial one, because Micromega now makes electronics for Focal, and in most countries in the world—not Australia—the two companies share distributors.) If you choose a Focal colour option, you’ll save a few bucks, because Focal colours add only $1,490 to the retail price. If you needed even more proof that Micromega was thinking outside the square when it designed the M-100, consider that it’s designed to be wall-mounted. Yep, you can attach it to the wall, so if you have optioned in a bright colour, or a multi-hued finish, you’ll be staring at a huge expanse of it… one that’s 430mm wide and 350mm high. You will have to purchase a wall mount to do this though, and a Universal M-One wall mount costs $190 (RRP). Note that if you do mount the M-100 conventionally, watch out for the four tiny shallow-coned feet at the bottom of the amplifier, they’re not actually sharp, but if you put the amplifier on a soft wooden surface, or push the amplifier over any surface, you could end up damaging and/or scratching that surface. Micromega does actually warn you about this in its manual, but it doesn’t supply a manual with the M-100. You have to go on-line and download your own. You can mount the M-100 in a conventional fashion on a shelf—though it would have to be a pretty deep shelf—or on an

equipment rack. No matter which orientation you go for, you’ll be able to see the information shown on the front-panel display because there are two displays, one at the ‘top’ of the amplifier (this being the ‘top’ if you’re flat-mounting the M-100) and one on the thin edge of the amplifier, which would be the ‘front’ if you were mounting it conventionally. The ‘top’ display has two buttons either side of the display that are used to control all the functions on the amplifier. Because I had to send the M-100 back at the conclusion of this review I didn’t wall mount it, sitting it horizontally on my equipment rack and one thing that annoyed me about the dual displays is that whenever I used the remote, the ‘top’ display turned off and simply showed the word ‘Micromega’, leaving only the ‘front’ display active. Maybe there’s a way to stop this from happening… I certainly hope so! How do four small buttons control all the M-100’s functions?... and there are plenty of them! Once you have turned the amplifier on (top left button), the screen illuminates and the two buttons on the right become volume buttons (up/down), while the one at bottom left becomes an input source button. If you press the input source button, the screen changes, and then the functions of the four buttons also change, so you can cycle through inputs. Other screens allow you to adjust the relative sensitivity of the inputs by up to 12dB, so the volume will stay the same when switching between components that have different output levels, adjust balance, and rename inputs (from a programmed list).

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M i c ro m e g a M -1 0 0 I n t e g r a t e d A m p l i f i e r/ DAC / S t re a m e r

The ‘front’ display doesn’t have any buttons. What looks like a button is actually a 3.5mm headphone jack. I would have preferred a larger, 6.35mm jack, but at least there is a headphone jack. What’s more, the headphone circuitry has been implemented very cleverly, so that no matter what level you’re playing your speakers, if you plug in your headphones, the volume will instantly revert to the one you last used when using your headphones, and the speakers themselves will be automatically muted. It’s no ordinary headphone jack, either. In addition to using it conventionally, you can also switch between in three levels of binaural processing. If I can jump ahead of myself, I was impressed by the binaural headphone circuitry inside the M-100. It slightly softened the edges of the sound, and brought widely-panned elements into the central stage area, but was totally immersive… at least it was in the ‘light’ and ‘strong’ settings: The ‘medium’ setting was less so. All the connections are made at the rear of the amplifier, and the rear panel is recessed, so that the top and sides of the aluminium extrusion extend beyond it by 60mm. This makes it more difficult to access all the connectors on the rear panel, but it makes it possible to hide all the cables from sight if you’re wall-mounting the amplifier, or even if you’re sitting it flat. On the recessed rear panel you’ll find an unbalanced line input (via RCA terminals) and a balanced line input (via XLR terminals). There’s also a phono input whose gain is switchable for use with either moving-magnet or moving-coil cartridges. So that’s three ‘analogue’ (more about this later) inputs in total. Then there are the digital inputs: one coaxial (RCA), one optical (Toslink), one AES/ EBU (via XLR) and one USB (B-type). There’s also an Ethernet port. (If you load the free Micromega app onto your smart phone—iOS or Android—you’ll be able to play internet radio and networked files via UPnP/DLNA.) The coaxial and AES/EBU digital inputs will do any sampling rate or bit configuration up to 32-bit/768kHz and the M-100 can handle PCM DSD and DSD over PCM (up to 11.2MHz DSD); the optical input is capable of up to 24-bit/192kHz. There are two USB-A slots on the rear panel. One is to allow firmware updates, plus can also be used to replay music stored on a stick or a drive (though a firmware update is required). The second USB-A slot is so you can plug in a USB ‘dongle’ associated with the ‘M.A.R.S.’ circuitry. M.A.R.S. stands for Micromega Acoustic Room System and it’s an equaliser that’s designed to compensate for acoustic deficiencies in your room and in your loudspeakers.

Unlike many programs, it doesn’t offer much in the way of customisation: there are only two equalisation curves to choose between. One aims to eliminate room effects for you, and also make the frequency response of your speakers as flat as possible, while the other just aims to eliminate room effects, and leaves the frequency response of your speakers pretty-much as the designer of those speakers intended. If you order the M.A.R.S. option, you’ll not only get the essential USB key that activates the M.A.R.S. circuitry, but also a mini-tripod, a threaded microphone holder, a long high-quality cable and a Dayton Audio EMM-6 precision electret condenser measurement microphone. (Hence the reason for the provision of a microphone input above the ground terminal on the rear panel of the M-100, which I didn’t mention earlier, because it wouldn’t have made sense until you’d learned about the M.A.R.S. option. It’s this that you plug the EMM-6 into, so the M-100 can then use it to measure your room. My review sample didn’t come with the M.A.R.S. option fitted, but if you do order it, it will cost you an additional $1,490 if you order it pre-installed, and an additional $1,990 if you decide to add it afterwards. The two sockets which look like they’re HDMI sockets are reserved for future use with I2S data streams (as are already used internally prior to the DAC), and as a final digital bonus the M-100 offers Bluetooth streaming, with the aptX codec available for so-called ‘near-CD’ quality lossy compression if your sending device also supports aptX. Also on the rear panel are balanced XLR pre-outputs, a subwoofer output, a pair of control triggers and a giant set of speaker terminals. I say ‘giant’ because they’re larger than what I normally see—great huge blocks of gold-plated metal that can accommodate bare cable, banana plugs or spade connectors.

INTERNAL CIRCUITRY The M-100 is so narrow that I suspected the company might be using Class-D circuitry, but I was wrong. In fact, from the vehement anti-Class-D diatribe contained in the White Paper that’s downloadable from Micromega’s website, I don’t imagine the company will be building an amplifier with a Class-D output stage anytime soon! However, the power supply for the M-100 is not a conventional linear type, but a switch-mode power supply (SMPS) of a type Micromega calls a ‘resonance power supply’ or ‘LLC’ that has a switching frequency of between 90kHz and 120kHz which puts the rectified components up at around 200kHz and higher.

One thing Micromega’s White Paper does not make clear is that although the output stage of the M-100 is analogue, the signal path through the amplifier is not analogue, because all internal processing is done in the digital domain: any signal you apply to any of the analogue inputs (XLR, RCA or Phono) will be converted to 24-bit/96kHz PCM at the input and only converted back to analogue just prior to the final amplifier stage. As for the output of that analogue output stage, Micromega rates the output power of the M-100 at 100-watts per channel both channels driven into 8Ω loads and 200-watts per channel both channels driven into 4Ω loads. The heat from the Thermaltrak output transistors is dissipated by a tunnel and fan system that does not operate all the time, but is whisper-quiet when it is operating.

LISTENING SESSIONS Before you start listening I’d recommend you download Micomega’s control App. When I loaded it onto my phone it found the M-100 immediately and offered easier access to various settings and adjustments you can make to the circuitry than I thought was possible using the front panel controls, plus it allows easy renaming of the inputs, rather than simply selecting from a preset list. For music operations it accesses internet radio, includes a good search option and accesses podcasts as well as live stations, and you can go to ‘Audio Server’ to play from UPnP and DLNA shares on your network. If you’d rather not use your phone to control the system you can instead use the remote control Micromega supplies with the M-100. Micromega was also thinking outside the square when it designed this remote, because it’s nothing like you’d expect a remote to be, not least because its size, shape and the location of the buttons on it make it very difficult (I won’t say impossible, but I was tempted) to use the remote with just one hand—you have to hold onto it like you’re controlling a drone. My listening sessions started out with my favourite black vinyl spinners, and although I was acutely conscious of the fact that although I was playing vinyl, the music was being ‘digitised’ on-the-fly, what I was hearing through my loudspeakers was all analogue… and very beautiful-sounding analogue into the bargain. Playing my QRP re-mastered version of ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ (no, I haven’t yet forgiven Yusuf Islam, but I’ve mellowed enough to play and perform his music after a two-decade hiatus), the very first moments of Where do the Children Play were enough to convince me of the sonic transparency of the M-100’s digital and analogue circuitry.

Australian Hi-Fi

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ON TEST

It wasn’t just the richness and depth of the bass, but the incredible level of detail— such as hearing the sound of the pick hitting the strings just before I heard the note of the string itself, not to mention the lovely high-frequency response: sweet, airy, extended… and more gorgeous than I’ve ever heard it sound on CD. After seriously surprising myself that I was so happy with the M-100’s performance with black vinyl, I then slowly worked through listening to all its digital inputs, a process which necessarily including evaluating everything from various streaming services right up to the latest high-res formats, and found that the longer I listened to the M-100, and the more inputs I evaluated, the more impressed I became by its performance: This is one seriously cool component! (Well not totally cool, the case could become warm despite the fan… which I could hear up close when no music was playing, but not from my listening position, and never when the music was playing.) And speaking of streaming, that process seemed to continue even when I switched to listen to a different input, so make sure you stop it when you’re not listening if you don’t want to consume bandwidth. Listening to Takatukas’ ‘Red Blood’, which seemed appropriate given the M-100’s heritage, the M-100 delivered the wild roller-coaster-ride of sound for which the band is famous, from the trademark machine-gun drumming of Bruno Mellier to the screaming, almost ear-piercing lead guitar shredding of Gerald Ozga. It kicks in from the opener Paranoiaque/hypochondriaque and keeps the excitement through all 15 tracks to Ras Kouyon. The slam and tone of Nicolas Vitry’s bass is a constant delight as well. I was able to confirm that the M-100’s performance was totally consistent across all the inputs using my library of cuts that are identical except for format, many of which are sourced from Soundkeeper Recordings.

LABORATORY TEST REPORT Newport Test Labs measured the power output of the Micromega M-100 as 108-watts per channel, both channels driven, at 1kHz and all frequencies up to 20kHz (the highest frequency measured in this test), and as 102 watts per channel both channels at 20Hz. All measurements are a little higher than Micromega’s spec of 100-watts per channel into

LAB REPORT

The M-100 delivered consistently silent backgrounds, extraordinary dynamics and excelled at maintaining ruthlessly accurate tonality irrespective of music genre.

CONCLUSION As ‘all in one’ components become increasingly common, manufacturers are pulling out all the stops to make sure their products stand out. Micromega has pulled out so many stops building the M-100 that you have to peer upwards to see it (literally, if you wallmount it). Brilliantly designed, lovely-sounding, able to be optioned-up and/or upgraded and, thanks to the MCF customisation on offer, it can be as beautiful as your heart’s Jules Larkin desire. Magnifique! Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and displayed using graphs or photographs should be construed as applying only to the sample tested.

challenge and delivered nearly 300-watts per channel, both channels driven, right across the audio band. The frequency response of the Micromega M-100 is graphed in Graph 4 and tabulated in the accompanying Test Result table. Across the audio band (Graph 4) you can see the M-100’s frequency response was ruler flat from 20Hz up to 2kHz. Below 20Hz it rolled off to be only 0.2dB down at 5Hz (and 1dB down at 2Hz, though this frequency was below the graphing limit) and above 2kHz it rolled off to be 0.5dB down at 20kHz and then 1dB down at 34kHz. The –3dB response extended from below 1Hz to 45kHz. Above 45kHz, the response essentially disappears, because the sampling frequency of the internal ADC is 96kHz, meaning response has to be completely rolled off by 48kHz in order to avoid aliasing. Channel separation was excellent at

CONTACT DETAILS Brand: Micromega Model: M-100 RRP: $6,490 Warranty: One Year Distributor: Absolute Hi End Address: PO Box 370 Ormond VIC 3204 T: (04) 8877 7999 E: info@ absolutehiend.com W: www. absolutehiend.com Ɗ Feature-packed Ɗ Does everything Ɗ Amazing sound Ɗ No analog signal path Ɗ Display switching Ɗ Remote control

8Ω. Measured into 4Ω loads, the Micromega M-100 only just exceeded its specification at 1kHz and 20kHz (201-watts per channel) but dropped just under specification when the test frequency was 20Hz, where it delivered 186-watts per channel, since this is just 0.3dB lower than specification, it’s inconsequential. The M-100 delivered the same power output irrespective of whether a single channel was driven, or both channels, made possible in part because the amplifier uses dual power supplies, so one can’t deplete the other. Good design. Newport Test Labs also tested the M-100 into 2Ω loads, for which it’s not actually rated, but the Micromega rose to the

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M i c ro m e g a M -1 0 0 I n t e g r a t e d A m p l i f i e r/ DAC / S t re a m e r dBFS 0 00

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Graph 3. Intermodulation distortion (CCIF-IMD) using test signals at 19kHz and 20kHz, at an output of 1-watt into an 8-ohm non-inductive load, referenced to 0dB.

Graph 4. Frequency response of line input at an output of 1-watt into an 8-ohm non-inductive load (black trace) and into a combination resistive/ inductive/capacitive load representative of a typical two-way loudspeaker system (red trace).

low and midrange frequencies, as you can see from the tabulated results, but only 74dB at 20kHz, rather less than I am used to seeing from an integrated amplifier, but more than will be necessary to ensure perfect stereo imaging and channel separation. Channel phase errors were virtually non-existent, and even the largest of them (1.05° at 20kHz) would be completely inaudible. Channel balance was an excellent 0.035dB. Distortion at an output of one watt into 8Ω (Graph 1) was very low, as you can see, with a second harmonic component at

–98dB (0.0012% THD), a fourth harmonic at –110dB (0.0003% THD) and a fifth harmonic at –113dB (0.0002% THD). Note that in this case (and with all the other measurements Newport Test Labs made on the M-100), the results include not only the non-linearities of the analogue output stage, but also of the analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue converter stages. Performance into a 4Ω load (not shown) was similar but with slight increases in the levels of the 2nd and 4th harmonics, but only to –95dB (0.0017% THD) and –105dB (0.0005% THD) respectively, so

ÀǔƋʁɁȧƬǷŘÀȊɍ̋̋“ȭǜƬǷʁŘǜƬƞ ÄȧɡǚǔǞƬʁ ǂ ³ŘŽɁʁŘǜɁʁ˿ ďƬʊǜ õƬʊˁǚǜʊ Test

Measured Result

Units/Comment

Frequency Response @ 1 watt o/p

2Hz – 34kHz

–1dB

Frequency Response @ 1 watt o/p

<1Hz – 45kHz

–3dB

Channel Separation (dB) Channel Balance Interchannel Phase THD+N

108dB / 101dB / 74dB 0.035 0.02 / 0.05 / 1.05 0.01% / 0.0002%

(20Hz / 1kHz / 20kHz) dB @ 1kHz degrees ( 20Hz / 1kHz / 20kHz) @ 1-watt / @ rated output

Signal-to-Noise (unwghted/wghted)

77dB / 81dB

dB referred to 1-watt output

Signal-to-Noise (unwghted/wghted)

94dB / 97dB

dB referred to rated output

Input Sensitivity

136mV / 1.36V

(1-watt / rated output)

Output Impedance Damping Factor

̋Ɩ̋ʹ˫

at 1kHz

400

@1kHz

Power Consumption

2.58 / 44.71

watts (Standby / On)

Power Consumption

62.83 / 337

watts at 1-watt / at rated output

Mains Voltage Variation during Test

235 – 253

Minimum – Maximum

hardly significant. Note the extremely low level of the noise floor over the audio band, down below 120dB referenced to 1-watt, which is outstanding performance. Graph 2 shows distortion at rated output (100-watts) into 8Ω and you can see the M-100’s performance was outstandingly good, with a second harmonic at –100dB (0.001% THD) and fourth and sixth harmonics down at around –110dB (0.0003% THD). Interestingly, a third harmonic component is obvious, so this is likely related to the output stage, but it’s 113dB down (0.0002% THD) and so inaudible. Note that the noise floor across the audio band has dropped even lower, down close to –140dB. There is some low-frequency noise (the spike at the extreme left of the graph) but it’s more than 80dB down. The slight anomalies in the noise floor are likely sampling-related. Intermodulation distortion (CCIF), as measured by Newport Test Labs, is shown in Graph 3, and shows the two test signals (at 19kHz and 20kHz) just left of centre. The two sidebands at 18kHz and 21kHz are both around 110dB down (0.0003% THD), and the unwanted regenerated difference signal at 1kHz is 100dB down (0.001% THD). The signals up around 40kHz are likely to be a mixture of sampling artefacts and second harmonic distortion components, but are so high in frequency and so low in level that they can be discounted. Newport Test Labs measured the signalto-noise ratio of the Micromega M-100 as 81dB A-weighted referred to 1-watt and 97dB A-weighted referred to rated output. These are very good figures, that would have been even better if the lab had used a 20kHz low-pass filter, as the M-100 exhibited some ultrasonic noise that dragged down the measured figures somewhat, but is so high that it would be completely inaudible to the human ear. The square wave performance of the Micromega M-100 is shown for three frequencies and are ‘non-typical’ of an amplifier because they show artefacts (ringing) caused by the internal A-D and D-A converters. The 10kHz wave is severely compromised because the essential internal filtering eliminates the higher-order harmonics necessary to create a high-frequency square wave, because only four components 10kHz, 20kHz, 30kHz and 40kHz are available, hence the almost-sinus shape of the waveform. Considering that the measured performance of the M-100 takes into account A-D and D-A conversion as well as amplification to 100-watts (8Ω) and 200-watts (4Ω) per channel, my conclusion is that the M-100 delivered an outstanding level of performance Steve Holding on the test bench.

Australian Hi-Fi

43


ON TEST

NAGRA CDP CD PLAYER

N

agra’s CDP player is like no other CD player you have seen before, because the front panel display is built into the CD drawer, the front of which does not close flush with the front panel, as with most drawer-style CD mechanisms, but sits proud of it. It’s also small… so small that the face of the remote control is almost larger than the front of the CDP. Open the drawer and you’ll see that it is not some piece of extruded plastic plucked from the shelf of an OEM manufacturer, or even a piece of stamped metal. It’s a solid slab of aluminium alloy, through which protrudes the CD drive and laser assembly (a Philips CD-Pro2M). This thing is solid, with a capital ‘S’—and very obviously assembled by hand. Once you drop a CD over the drive, you then have to hold it in place by attaching a magnetic clamp. If you don’t do this, the Nagra CDP will refuse to play… but it will give you a warning as to why it’s not co-operating by showing the words ‘No Clamper’ in the front panel display.

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Australian Hi-Fi

You can close the drawer by simply pushing it in… though I recommend you don’t do this. Far better to close it using the tiny spring-loaded Open/Close toggle switch that pokes through a slot cut in the front panel. The toggle switch you can see on the front panel just to the right of the disc drawer alters the brightness of the display (through six levels). Again, this is a spring-loaded, momentary-contact switch that protrudes through a slot cut into the front panel. The third toggle switch you can see on the front panel is used to fast-forward and fast-rewind through individual tracks, plus it also doubles as a track skip (forward/reverse) control. The rotary control at the right of the front panel controls the Nagra CDP’s other transport functions. It’s a bar of aluminium that sits in a 6mm-deep recess in the front panel. In its horizontal (Off) position, it obscures a horizontal red bar underneath it that becomes visible when you rotate the bar clockwise, first to ‘Stop’, then to ‘Pause’ and finally to ‘Play’ (at which point the bar is vertical). The reason for the red bar is to show that the Nagra is ‘On’. It’s a technique that was used in the early day of electronics, pre-dating the

adoption of pilot lights to indicate control status. The person operating equipment using this system only had to glance at, say, an instrument panel, to see which controls were ‘On’ and which were ‘Off’ by whether or not a red painted bar was visible. Of course you don’t have to use the Nagra’s front panel controls at all if you’d rather not. The CDP (along with all other variants of Nagra’s player, about which more later) comes standard with a Nagra RCU-II infra-red remote.

This thing is solid, with a capital ‘S’—and very obviously assembled by hand... ˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


Nagra CDP CD Player

This is a multi-function device that will also control other compatible Nagra components. In addition to allowing you to control the basic transport functions of the CDP it enables you to access more advanced playback functions, including programmed play, repeat track, repeat disc, A–B repeat, shuffle play and track scan. It’s a very large remote (51mm wide, 25mm deep and 222mm long) and a very heavy one too (it weighs 310g). I particularly liked that I could stand it on its end, which makes it easy to store, easy to pick up, and overall means you’re less likely to accidentally misplace it. The chassis of the Nagra CDP is not moulded or pressed in any way, it’s entirely constructed from thick flat sheets of aluminium that are bolted together. It’s a technique that’s often used to build prototypes, or products not many of which will be built, because it saves tooling costs. It does mean, however, that appearance of the Nagra CDP is like stepping back in time to the 1950s… or even the 1940s. It seems Nagra is celebrating this by deliberately using knobs, switches and controls that are also built in styles that hark back to these times. If you were thinking that the front panel of the Nagra CDP looks a bit bare, it’s because there are three different versions of this player available, and on the ‘CDC’ version the blank space is occupied by volume and balance controls and an output level meter… or, as Nagra prefers to call it, a ‘double modulometer’. The ‘CDT’ version looks identical to the model reviewed here, but is only a transport and must be used in conjunction with an external digital-to-analogue converter (of which Nagra makes two, the ‘Classic’ DAC and the ‘HD’ DAC.) The rear panel of the Nagra CDP has both balanced (via gold-plated XLR) and unbalanced (via gold-plated RCA) audio outputs as well as three digital outputs: SPDIF (via RCA), Optical (via Toslink), and AES (via XLR). But what’s most notable is what isn’t there: a 240V power socket. It doesn’t have a 240V power socket because you need to use an external power supply to deliver power to the CDP, via a proprietary three-pin socket which is what you can see on the rear panel. It appears that Nagra does not want any high-voltage circuits anywhere near its digital circuitry or low-voltage analogue circuits. As for that external power supply, you have a range of choices because there are two different external supplies, plus the CDP can also get its power from some other Nagra components, such as the BPS phono preamplifier. Included in the price of the CDP is Nagra’s ACPS II, a small single-rail stand-alone power supply that usually retails for $1,695.

You could also power it with a Nagra MPS Power supply, which retails for $9,295, and can supply 12V d.c. power for up to four Nagra components (but only three if one of them is the HD DAC, which requires two separate power supplies to itself). One advantage of using this unit is that it can be fitted with an optional Li-Ion battery, enabling total isolation from the 240V mains. The battery can power the CDP for up to 11 hours. Local distributor Advance Audio supplied the Nagra MPS Power supply for this review, but without the battery fitted, so mains power was used for all the listening sessions and for the testing by Newport Test Labs.

IN USE AND LISTENING SESSIONS The very first thing you will notice about the Nagra CDP is that the disc drawer mechanism is noisy when it’s moving inwards and outwards. Very noisy. This was a surprise in part because Nagra says the motor is: ‘a state-ofthe-art planetary reduction motor: a component developed by a NASA-approved supplier, whose products equipped the Mars Rover robot sent to the red planet.’ It was only after reading this that I realised that a motor designed for use in space doesn’t have to be quiet, because you couldn’t hear it in space… there’s no atmosphere, so no medium for the transmission of sound waves. The only requirements for a motor used in a space program would be that it’s accurate and reliable… the manufacturer really wouldn’t care how noisy it was. The drawer motor is no doubt accurate (it’s accurate to within two microns, according to Nagra) and I have no doubt it is also absolutely and completely reliable… but I do have to tell you that it’s ‘way noisy… but

obviously, once it’s done its job of opening the drawer or closing it, it’s then as silent as space itself! As noted at the beginning of this review, a magnetic clamp must be attached manually every time you load a CD. Nagra says that this clamp improves the centring and positioning of the CD on the transport, which is certainly true. However its primary function is to stop the CD from launching itself into the air when the transport spins it up to playing speed (which varies between 200 rpm at the beginning of disc and 500 rpm towards the end). The only issue about drives that use a clamping system is that you have to remember to remove both disc and clamp whenever you transport the player from one location to another. If you don’t, it’s possible for the clamp to become dislodged and fall inside the player, which in the case of the Nagra CDP will then require you to remove the six screws securing the top plate and extract it manually before you attempt to apply power. This is perfectly safe to do yourself, because there’s no 240V power inside the CDP… just 12 volts. I did appreciate the fact that Nagra has helpfully included some (red!) illumination in the drawer when it’s open, which makes it easy to load and unload CDs in a darkened room, but I’d stab a guess that this feature was actually requested by Nagra’s own dealers and distributors, who often do their demos in rooms that can be very dark indeed… such as the demo rooms at hi-fi shows! Loading is quite quick, but the time it takes to load a disc is dependent on the number of tracks on the CD, varying from around six seconds for an 18-track disc to 24 seconds for a 99-track disc.

Australian Hi-Fi

45


ON TEST

A state-of-theart CD player, hand-built in Switzerland, that delivers outstanding sound quality

LAB REPORT

Handel’s ‘Messiah’. Of all the versions I own, my ‘go-to’ work is Stephen Layton’s wonderful reading for Hyperion… and it’s home-grown here in Oz! The delivery of high-frequencies by the Nagra CDP was outstanding, with beautifully intonated upper violin sound on every CD I auditioned… the authenticity of the sound a far cry from the screechy violin delivery of some compact disc players. As for the sound of Simon Barker’s shakuhachi on his superb solo album, ‘Descalzo’, well it was as if the angels were playing in heaven.

CONCLUSION Once a disc is loaded, other operations (track skip, fast search and so on) are exceptionally fast, and the operations are also buffered, so if you flick the fast forward switch six times in quick succession, the laser will skip six tracks. The only quirk in the transport operation is that the Nagra ‘locks out’ the ‘CD Open’ toggle switch so that it won’t work unless the transport is stopped, so if a disc is paused or is playing, pressing the CD Open toggle switch doesn’t stop play and open the drawer as it normally would with other CD players. I guess that this quirk of operation is just down to the unusual front panel switching. The sound I heard from the Nagra CDP CD player was outstandingly good. Low frequencies were tight, powerful, and bouncily tuneful, no matter what I played, and the sonic quality of the bass was totally organic… nothing unnaturally electronic here. Listening to well-recorded cello, for example (Steven Isserlis playing Bach’s Cello Suites) I found the Nagra’s pitching was spot-on and the string sound was gloriously real, allowing me to totally appreciate the gorgeous sound Isserlis is able to extract from his cello. If you’ve passed on these suites in the past for being too ponderous, you’ll love Isserlis’ faster tempi. Also, the way he is able to voice the chords is truly astonishing… and reproduced to perfection by the Nagra CDP. But even when reproducing electronica-style bass, with programmed drums and synths and looped bass, the sound was convincingly and realistically ‘live’, and with rawer, rock-driven sounds, such as Rachel Maria Cox’s ‘Untidy Lines’, the Nagra CDP was able to deliver the true emotion behind the songs, easily demonstrated by listening to the ripping guitar work on Emotionally Untidy or the slow burn of Constellation. The clarity and illumination of the Nagra’s midrange made listening to large-scale choral works an even-greater pleasure, for the way it made it easier to follow the different sections when singing along, or enjoy the cohesiveness of the whole when just listening to lift the heart, both of which I often do when playing

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Australian Hi-Fi

Nagra obviously would prefer you to partner its CDP CD player with other Nagra components, such as its Classic Preamp and Classic Power Amplifier, but unless you’re one of those audiophiles who insists that all the components in your system have to look the same, there is absolutely no reason why you should do this if you have other preferences or priorities for amplification. So if you’d like a state-of-the-art CD player, hand-built in Switzerland, that delivers outstanding sound quality and has a user interface that will have you smiling with satisfaction every time you interact with it, the Nagra CDP CD player is the one for you. Andreas Park Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Nagra CDP CD Player should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on the following pages. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/or displayed using graphs and/or photographs should ŽƬƋɁȭʊǜʁˁƬƞŘʊŘɡɡǚ˿ǔȭǷɁȭǚ˿ǜɁǜǒƬʊɡƬƋǔǞƋ sample tested.

LABORATORY TEST REPORT Newport Test Labs measured the output voltage of the Nagra CDP’s unbalanced outputs as just over 1 volt, as you can see from the tabulated test results. This will be more than sufficient for all integrated amplifiers, but if you intend to drive a power amplifier directly, you should check that its input sensitivity is lower than 1 volt, otherwise that amplifier won’t be able to deliver its rated output power. The output voltage balance between the left and right channels was excellent, at just 0.019dB, and the phase error between the channels was particularly low: only 0.03° at 16Hz and 0.01° at 20kHz. At 1kHz it was perfect: there was no phase error at all between the channels. The frequency response of the Nagra CDP CD player as measured by Newport Test Labs was excellent, with response between 20Hz and 20kHz shown in Graph 9, and you can see it’s ruler-flat from 20Hz up to 2.5kHz, after which there’s a very gradual roll-off until the trace is 0.18dB down at 20kHz. This puts the normalised frequency response within the audio band as 20Hz to 20kHz ±0.09dB.

CONTACT DETAILS Brand: Nagra Model: CDP RRP: $22,195 Warranty: Two Years Distributor: Advance Audio Australia Address: Unit 8, 509–529 Parramatta Road Leichhardt NSW 2040 T: (02) 9561 0799 E: info@advanceaudio.com.au W: www.advanceaudio.com.au

Ɗ Great sound Ɗ Truly unique build Ɗ Made in Switzerland Ɗ Noisy drawer mechanism

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


Nagra CDP CD Player

Graph 1. THD @ 1kHz @ 0dB recorded level.

Graph 2. THD @ 1kHz @ -10dB recorded level.

Graph 3. THD @ 1kHz @ -20dB recorded level.

Graph 4. THD @ 1kHz @ -60dB recorded level.

Graph 5. THD @ 1kHz @ -91.24dB recorded level. No Dither.

Graph 6. THD @ 1kHz @ -90.31dB recorded level. Dithered.

Graph 7. THD @ 20kHz @ 0dB recorded level.

Graph 8. CCIF Distortion (Twin-Tone Intermodulation) @ 0dB using 19kHz and 20kHz test signals in 1:1 ratio.

Graph 9. Frequency Response at @ 0dB recorded level.

Graph 10. Impulse Train. (One maximum amplitude positive sample every 70 samples (630 pulses per second).

You can see the roll-off above 20kHz is exceptionally steep from Graph 10. Newport Test Labs measured channel separation as 122dB at 16Hz and exactly 100dB at 1kHz, both of which are excellent results. Channel separation at 20kHz was a little less than I am used to seeing at this frequency from a CD player, but it’s still far more necessary in order for the Nagra CDP to deliver perfect stereo imaging. Distortion with a 1kHz test signal at a recorded level of 0dB was low (Graph 1), but the presence of six harmonic distortion components in the output suggest that this distortion was related to the output stage, rather than to the digital-to-analogue conversion process, particularly since you can see that when the level of the test signal was reduced by 10dB (Graph 2) all but two of the distortion components disappeared. The two that remain, the second and third harmonics, are at levels of –120dB (0.0001% THD) and –114dB (0.00019% THD) respectively and would be completely inaudible (as would the six components at 0dB, since all are more than 100dB down, or less than 0.001% THD). At a recorded level of –20dB, which is more representative of the levels music would be recorded on a commercial music disc, there’s only a single harmonic distortion component visible in the output from the Nagra CDP, and it’s at –131dB (0.00002% THD). An excellent result! Graph 4 shows distortion at –60dB and this time the signals you see are all caused by errors in the digital-to-analogue conversion process. However, all the signals are more than 120dB down, or less than 0.0001% THD, so would not be audible. The Nagra CDP CD player’s performance at exceptionally low recorded levels is shown in Graphs 5 and 6, where the test signal has been recorded without dither (Graph 5) and with dither (Graph 6). Without the dither, you can see odd-order harmonic distortion components stretching out to 20kHz. Once dither is applied, however, all the distortion components disappear, leaving only the –91.31dB test signal at the far left of the graph. Because all music recorded onto CD is dithered, it is the performance that is shown in Graph 6 that is what the Nagra CDP will deliver in your hi-fi system. What’s most notable here—apart from the complete absence of any distortion components at all, of course!—is the low level of the noise floor in Graph 6… it’s down at 135dB right across the audio band, which is a truly excellent result, making the Nagra CDP quieter than most amplifiers. Testing the Nagra CDP with a very high-level, high-frequency signal (a 20kHz

Australian Hi-Fi

47


Nagra CDP CD Player Nagra CDP CD Player - Laboratory Test Results Analogue Section Output Voltage (Unbalanced) Frequency Response Channel Separation

Result 1.0186 / 1.0209 See Graph 122 / 100 /73

dB at 16Hz / 1kHz / 20kHz

0.001

@ 1kHz @ 0dBFS

Channel Balance

0.019

@ 1kHz @ 0dBFS

Group Delay Signal-to-Noise Ratio (No Pre-emph) De-Emphasis Error

-0.03 / 0.00 / 0.01 180 / 5.38 96 /101 0.16 / 0.85 / 0.37

degrees at 16Hz / 1kHz / 20kHz degrees (1–20kHz / 20–1kHz) dB (unweighted/weighted) at 1kHz / 4kHz / 16kHz

Linearity Error @ –60.00dB

0.01

dB (Test Signal Not Dithered)

Linearity Error @ –80.59dB

0.05

dB (Test Signal Not Dithered)

Linearity Error @ –89.46dB

0.14

dB (Test Signal Not Dithered)

Linearity Error @ –90.31dB

0.03

dB (Test Signal Dithered)

Power Consumption

13.57

watts

Mains Voltage During Testing

237 - 242

(Minimum – Maximum)

Digital Carrier Amplitude

83.09mV

Audioband

Digital Carrier Amplitude

1.06V / 0.95V

Digital Section

Audioband Jitter

Units/Comment

Differential / Common Mode

1.7 / 0.009

nS (p–p) / UI (p–p)

Data Jitter

2.1 / 0.01

nS (p–p) / UI (p–p)

Deviation

-81.8

ppm

Frame Rate

44096.396

Eye-Narrowing (Zero Cross)

5.9 / 0.034

nS (p–p) / UI (p–p)

Eye-Narrowing (200mV)

6.4 / 0.036

nS (p–p) / UI (p–p)

Normal

Normal / Inverted

Absolute Phase

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dB (20Hz – 20kHz)

THD+N

Channel Phase

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Units/Comment volts (Left Ch/ Right Ch)

sine wave signal recorded at 0dB) showed some sampling-related artefacts, but none fell within the audio band and all were more than 80dB down (Graph 7). CCIF intermodulation distortion was very low, as you can see from Graph 8. The two test signals just left of centre of the graph are accompanied by only two sidebands, both of which are more than 110dB down (0.0003% THD), and although there is an unwanted difference signal generated (at 1kHz) it’s 108dB down (0.00039% THD). The sampling-related artefacts are all higher in frequency than 22.5kHz and all but two are more than 100dB down, and those two are more than 90dB down. Linearity errors were low, as you can see from the tabulated results, as were the de-emphasis errors… but at least the Nagra CDP has a de-emphasis circuit—many manufacturers seem to be omitting them from their CD players these days (or at least not implementing the circuit, which is almost always present in the DAC itself) on the basis that so few people are likely to have CDs that are old enough to require de-emphasis (that is, discs manufactured and sold prior to 1990). The square wave and impulse oscillograms show that the Nagra CDP is using a standard oversampling filter and maintains correct absolute phase. Overall, the Nagra CDP CD player returned excellent performance across all the bench-testing conducted by Newport Test Labs. Steve Holding

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


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No 65 May/June 2018

REVIEWED

B&W 800 D3 STILL EXPENSIVE, BUT YOU’VE SAVED MONEY BY BIDING YOUR TIME!

INTERVIEW

JOHN ONG SOUND GALLERY Melbourne’s newest store is about to celebrate its second anniversary!


INTERVIEW

JOHN ONG SOUND GALLERY

J

ohn Ong has been an integral part of the Melbourne audio scene for more than twenty years, where he’s worked in audio research and development, and audio design and manufacturing as well as in the retail sector. His most recent project, Sound Gallery, is about to celebrate its second anniversary, so we thought we’d check on its progress… Aushifi: When did you first become interested in hi-fi? John Ong: I guess it would have been when I was 12 years old. I always wondered how things worked… and especially how music could be reproduced from a box! I started pulling them apart—portable radios, cassette players—anything I could get my hands on really. I was really good at taking things apart, but not so good at putting them together… unfortunately! Aushifi: Was anyone else in your family interested in hi-fi? John Ong: My uncle loved music and had a really good Sansui system which had an enormous multi-channel graphic equaliser. I remember spending hours with that, adjusting all the controls and trying to work out exactly which ones I’d have to use to have the most effect on particular instruments.

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Australian Hi-Fi

I also had lots of fun, such as arranging the controls into a smiley face just to hear the effect on the sound. The classic ‘V’ EQ could never go wrong… at the time anyway. That’s when I learned about frequency range and frequency response. Aushifi: What type of music were you listening to back then? John Ong: Back then it was mostly just pop music or whatever that was on the radio—Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Def Leopard—the usual music you’d find any teenager living in Malaysia listening to. Aushifi: When did you get your first hi-fi system? John Ong: It was when I was at high school. I didn’t have any money to get a decent system so I asked my parents if they’d pay. They said that if I got ten straight As in my exams, I could have the system. Unfortunately I could only get eight As, but they were nice enough to still get me a system, so I bought a pair of Rogers speakers, a Creek integrated amplifier and a Denon cassette deck. Aushifi: Why a cassette deck rather than a CD player? John Ong: I was still at high school and I knew I couldn’t afford CDs. So I bought blank tapes and recorded the music I wanted to listen to instead.

Aushifi: The Rogers speakers seem a strange choice for a teenager? John Ong: When I bought my system, it was the first time I’d ever been into a hi-fi store, and I actually went in planning to buy a pair of JBLs. When I went in there was a bunch of old guys sitting around listening to some music. When I mentioned JBL, they said: ‘You should listen to this system first.’ They sat me down and started playing the system and to my amazement, for the first five minutes there was no singing… just music, and to be honest I was wondering if they were for real. ‘Is no-one ever going to sing?’ I thought to myself. But then I was blown away by the emotional impact of the music— it was the first time I’d ever heard Pink Floyd (I’ve been a huge fan ever since)—and it was also the first time I realised that there was more to music than just the sound, that it was the emotional experience of music that was the most important. As for the speakers, it was quantity versus quality. The JBLs had more bass and played loud but the small Rogers moved me emotionally. Aushifi: So that store was in Malaysia? John Ong: Yes, that is where I was born and first studied. Aushifi: So after you bought your first hi-fi system, what then? John Ong: I bought all the Pink Floyd I could of course, plus I discovered Dire Straits, the Eagles, and more. I also started helping out at the store while I was hanging there, which enabled me to upgrade my system, learn how to repair hi-fi components, and also build my own equipment including my own speakers and a valve amplifier.

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


INTERVIEW

JOHN ONG SOUND GALLERY

It might have been that which gave me my love/hate relationship with valve amplifiers—I love valves yet hate them at the same time. I love the sound, but it’s so much work to continually re-bias as the valves age… Aushifi: What caused you to leave Malaysia? John Ong: My tertiary education actually. Like all parents anywhere in the world, mine wanted the best for their son, so they decided I should go to University in Australia. Aushifi: So how did you become a hi-fi professional? John Ong: I needed a part-time job while I was studying, so I started working for Surya Moorthy at Absolute High End in Hawthorn. I ended up working with Surya for more than four years. I learned a lot from him. Aushifi: And where to from there? John Ong: I went to work for Maya Audio, an R&D company that was developing their own DSP algorithms to achieve surround sound from just two speakers, and eliminate room effects. While I was there I got to work in their recording studio, where we remastered recordings using our algorithms and I learned about psychoacoustics and human hearing, all of which came to good use when I joined local Melbourne loudspeaker manufacturer The Audio Group (TAG), designing and manufacturing speakers for sale throughout Australia. Aushifi: Then you left to form your own company, Landmark Audio Visual. What type of company was it? John Ong: Basically it was a consultancy company designing home theatre rooms and sound distribution systems. I was working with architects and builders to design and install high-end audio and video solutions. Aushifi: But then you got back into retail didn’t you? How did this switch back into hi-fi retailing come about? John Ong: A very good friend of mine, Aris Giannakis, was one of the owners at Secher Audio Visual and he asked me to join them. Aris is like family to me and he was very persuasive. It was also an attractive offer, because the place was full of people passionate about audio and the company had been around for more than 25 years. Two years later the owners decided to restructure the whole company to create a new retail store (Melbourne Hi-Fi) and a new distribution company (National Audio Group), so I helped them with that before leaving in October 2016 to establish Sound Gallery. Aushifi: Was there a particular reason you chose to situate the store in McKinnon? John Ong: I wanted a location well away from all the other established hi-fi stores, so I wouldn’t be seen to be competing with them. I also decided to stock brands that were different from what anyone else in Melbourne was offering for the same reason.

I also wanted a quiet location—important for a hi-fi store—and one with heaps of nearby parking. Aushifi: How did you decide what brands you would sell? John Ong: My very first rule was that I would not sell stuff that I don’t personally like. I am also trying not to be a typical retail store: Instead I am trying to offer a solution, tailored to suit different customers with appropriate advice. So getting a system from Sound Gallery is an experience. All my customers will spend a lot of time communicating and listening to music before they actually get their own system. I feel that understanding what you are getting is very important, as a music system is an emotional purchase. Aushifi: So what does it take for you to like a product enough that you’re happy to sell it? John Ong: It not only has to sound great, it also has to be totally reliable and the distributor and manufacturer have to offer great support, and by this I mean support for information, upgrades and, if necessary, spare parts and repairs. All my customers get great support from me—I give them all my personal mobile number and tell them to call me any time they want—so I expect the same level of service from distributors… and manufacturers. Service is the key word these days, especially if you are competing with online stores. Aushifi: How do you demonstrate the equipment you sell? John Ong: I’m not like any other hi-fi shop most customers will have experienced. Sound Gallery is not a ‘buy this and see you later’ exercise. It’s a long process of listening and experiencing sound. I have several different systems set up in-store, each one

of which sounds different. My training in psycho-acoustics made me understand that the sound you like will depend on your upbringing, and how you’ve been trained to listen, due to the necessity of understanding the spoken word. The result is that Asians like their sound to have good treble and extreme clarity; Germans like accuracy; Poms like their sound to be relaxed, while Americans prefer big bass and prominent treble. So I play each customer the same music on five or six different systems that exhibit these attributes and let them choose the sound they’re most attracted to. Once they’ve decided, I then find out about the dimensions and acoustics of the room in which the system will be played, their musical tastes, the sources they plan to use—vinyl, CD, streaming etc—and their budget before I make any recommendations. As I said, it’s a long process and experience. Aushifi: What music do you play during these demonstrations? John Ong: I encourage my customers to bring their own music, because that’s obviously the music they like, but it’s also the music they’re most familiar with. But I have most kinds of music available here at the store, and if it’s not in-store on disc or on my server, there’s always Tidal! There are rare cases that some customers have really badly produced recordings that are unbearable to listen to in any system. In that case, I usually will play my recordings to show them what the system can do. You cannot judge a race car tyre by putting it on a truck can you? Aushifi: Anyone who visits the store without knowing what you sell might be somewhat taken aback by the cost of the components in each of your systems, because there aren’t many retail stores in Australia that have a pair of speakers

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that cost $75,000 sitting on the floor. What do you tell these customers? John Ong: The first thing I do is let them listen to all the systems regardless of price, so I can show them how good music can really sound in a good system and how they all can also sound so different with the same music. Ears have to be trained… as do all the other human senses. For example you might say you don’t care much about wine, but once you’ve had good wine you can’t go back. The same with food: Once you’ve had a great meal, that becomes your standard. In other words, once you’ve experienced something wonderful, you can’t go back. It’s for this reason that my dad always told me that the five senses are the biggest evils of all. As I mentioned before, it’s the experience most of us want when pursuing the hi-fi journey. You have to experience it to understand or know the difference. Aushifi: Do you have a typical customer? John Ong: I’d have to say that most of my customers—most of whom I regard as my friends now—are successful family men aged 30 and up. I even have a few that are pushing 80. But now that you mention it, I realise that I don’t have any customers who are single… all of them have partners. Aushifi: When you first opened, how did you tell people in Melbourne that Sound Gallery was open for business? John Ong: It was very low-key. I sent out a press release that was published in Australian Hi-Fi Magazine and on the aushifi.com website, but basically it was word-of-mouth from people I know personally. I didn’t email anyone at all. I don’t have a newsletter or email address database. I have a website, of

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course, plus a Facebook page, and I’m on Instagram for promoting the business online, but it’s all low-key because Sound Gallery is a different concept hi-fi store… it’s not a box-mover shop. People who love music will eventually find me. Aushifi: What days and times are you open? John Ong: Basically Sound Gallery is open 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. every day except Thursdays and Sundays, but we can cater for anyone at any time by appointment. Aushifi: They seem like rather strange hours? John Ong: Most mornings and after hours I’m at customers’ houses delivering and setting up systems. Sound Gallery always delivers and installs what we sell—especially high-end systems—unless the customer prefers otherwise. This service is included in the price. Most people don’t realise that system set-up contributes at least 25 per cent to the final result. If you buy a good system but don’t set it up correctly it can sound terrible. Most dealers in Melbourne will deliver gear, but they won’t necessarily install it for you professionally. Aushifi: So it’s only you at the store? John Ong: No, my wife works here at the store as well, plus I have contractors who help me with big installs. Aushifi: Do you mostly sell complete audio systems, or individual components? John Ong: It’s really a combination of both. Most of my customers have been hi-fi enthusiasts for some time and come to me because they’re frustrated with the sound they’re getting from their existing system. Many have not heard a different sound and are amazed when I demonstrate the different sounds you can achieve. Plus I have to say

that most are under the misconception that they need to use tweaks to improve their sound… cables and interconnects and so on. I tell them that it’s the synergy of the whole system that’s the most important. If the ‘bones’ of a system are not right, tweaks are simply a waste of money. Aushifi: But you do think cables and interconnects can improve the sound of a system? John Ong: All cables sound different and can improve the sound of a system: That’s something I demonstrate to my customers all the time. But you need to get the synergy between the various components correct before you start looking at cables and interconnects… or any other type of tweak. Aushifi: How do you think the availability of audio products via the Internet has affected ‘bricks ‘n mortar’ hi-fi retailers such as Sound Gallery? John Ong: Buying on-line can be cheaper, but it’s also risky because you can’t be 100 per cent sure of what will be delivered—there are a lot of counterfeits out there. Then you’ll have to install it yourself, and if anything goes wrong you’re usually on your own. Keeping a shop open is an expensive business, but if you have any problems, at least there’s a physical door that you can kick! I always stress service, back-up and expertise. I tell people up front that I’m not the cheapest, but they’ll have my service and can call me for help at any time. Aushifi: With vinyl making a comeback, what would you recommend for a new customer who already owns a large collection of LPs and wants a turntable? John Ong: It would depend entirely on his system—everything has to match up.

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INTERVIEW

Older customers usually have older systems, with good-quality older components. If they already own a good turntable I often recommend that they don’t buy a new one at all, but instead get their old turntable serviced—new bearing fluid, new belt and so on—their tonearm correctly aligned, then fit a new stylus,or a new cartridge. Aushifi: When you’re at home, do you play vinyl, CDs, from computer or stream? John Ong: I have two systems —one for music and one for home theatre. On the music system I play vinyl when I have the time and I’m listening seriously, but if I’m busy doing something else I stream from my own collection. Aushifi: What would be your desert island music choice if you could take only three albums… in any format of your choosing? John Ong: Pink Floyd’s Division Bell, Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert, and anything Teresa Teng ever sang! Aushifi: What digital format do you usually recommend for your customers? John Ong: My view is that a good recording will always sound good, no matter what format you’re using, and a bad recording will always sound bad. Customers often ask which hi-res format I’m playing when I play ECM recordings of Keith Jarrett that were recorded back in the 70s and they’re amazed when I tell them it’s standard 16-bit 44.1kHz. Aushifi: Many hi-fi stores now also import and distribute products. Do you think retailers who are also importers can offer consumers unbiased advice?

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John Ong: In an ideal world I’d like to think they’re importing and distributing those brands because they really believe in them. I do bring in one brand (Weiss), but only because I know the designer personally and admire his philosophies and his products. Aushifi: Are looks becoming as important as sound quality when it comes to hi-fi components? John Ong: Visual appearance is very important in these modern days, especially when living space is scarce. Gone are the days when you could put four Genesis speaker towers in a room. Customers are still after sound quality, but these days they also look at size, colours, and the type of finish. At the end of the day, they have a family and everyone in the family has to live with the system. It does help if the system looks good. Sometimes there’s compromise involved, but in the end if you can’t live with it, you shouldn’t buy it. Music was once a selfish hobby, but now the whole family has to be involved and enjoy it. They have to like what it looks like, and be able to use it. I think that’s why single component all-in-one units that do everything are becoming more popular, components such as the Bel Canto ACI 600, which is a DAC, and a streamer, and an integrated amplifier… just add speakers. Aushifi: Is there any one area of modern hi-fi systems that causes the most problems? John Ong: The biggest problem area is streaming. Few people understand how their home network works, or how to stream music via iPad or smartphone or computer.

And when you set it up for them and get it working, some guy from the NBN comes in and changes all the network settings and you have to go back and re-install all over again. Software user interfaces aren’t the friendliest either! Lots of improvement is necessary— and software has to evolve to become more user-friendly so that hopefully anyone who can use a smart phone will be able to stream music! Aushifi: What do you think differentiates Sound Gallery from other hi-fi retailers in Melbourne? John Ong: I think it’s the way I approach customer service. I understand that hi-fi is an emotional purchase, so I always listen to customers patiently in order to truly understand what they need, so I can suggest to them how to achieve what they’re after and am also able to demonstrate it. I am still an audiophile at heart… I am just trying to combine my passion with my profession.

SOUND GALLERY 224 McKinnon Road, McKinnon, VIC 3204 T: (03) 9578 8658 M: 0403 368 755 E-mail: info@soundgallery.com.au URL: www.soundgallery.com.au www.facebook.com/soundgalleryaustralia www.instagram.com/sound.gallery.australia Opening Hours: 10.30 a.m. – 6.30 p.m. (Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat) (Thursday and Sunday by appointment only)

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ON TEST

B&W 800 D3 LOUDSPEAKERS

T

he 800 D3 represents a landmark in the company’s history, because it was specifically created to celebrate B&W’s 50th anniversary. As such, I expected to find some gold used in the 800 D3, this being the precious metal most-often used to celebrate 50th anniversaries in most countries around the world. B&W has instead used diamond, a material more commonly reserved for 60th anniversaries. To be more specific, the dome of the 800 D3’s tweeter is made of diamond, which you’d have to agree is quite a step up in materials science from the cloth and base metal domes that are usually used to build tweeters… and by ‘base’ metals, I mean aluminium, titanium and beryllium. Using a dome made from diamond is not without its costs, and the first cost is simply that: they’re expensive! They’re so expensive that even B&W can’t afford to damage one. In fact, to minimise the possibility of damage, they are not even installed in the cabinet until the absolute last minute… just prior to each speaker being individually measured before being placed in its shipping carton.

Another cost of using a dome made from diamond is that—rather counter-intuitively, diamond being the hardest mineral known to mankind—the diamond dome is actually quite fragile, so to prevent it being accidentally damaged, B&W protects it with a grille mesh that very slightly affects its frequency response and reduces its efficiency. B&W is continually improving this grille to make it ever-more acoustically transparent, in order that it has less effect on the sound waves that must pass through it. The latest incarnation of the grille has a mesh grid that looks a little like one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, with myriad interlinked triangles. The dome is removable, but has a childproof locking system, so a special tool is required to remove it. A further ‘cost’ of using diamond as a dome material is that it’s heavier than fabric or metal, which means it’s more difficult to drive, and somewhat less efficient as a result. B&W gets around this issue by using four magnets, rather than just one, to drive the dome. B&W claims an increase in efficiency of around 2dB. To keep these four magnets cool—so they maintain their efficiency—the

B&W uses a rather elegant acoustic construction to extract unwanted energy from the rear of the diaphragm by moving it away to be dissipated inaudibly.

tube in which the tweeter is housed (about which more in a moment) is made from aluminium alloy, so the whole surface acts as a heatsink as well as an ‘enclosure’. Given all the foregoing drawbacks, one might be forgiven for asking why B&W uses diamond domes at all. The reason is that diamond has a hardness factor of 10 on the Mohs scale, which means that whereas most other tweeters enter their ‘break-up’ mode well below 50kHz (and some do so below 20kHz, so within the audio band itself!) B&W’s diamond tweeter does not enter its ‘break-up’ mode until a frequency of nearly 70kHz. The result is that the dome is completely rigid, exhibiting perfect piston-like behaviour not only within the audio band, but also for at least an octave above it, and delivers superior sound quality as a direct result. (By way of comparison, aluminium rates only a ‘3’ on the Mohs scale, and beryllium scores only a ‘5.5’.) There is one other problem with using a hard dome in a tweeter, and that is the problem of getting rid of pressure waves from the back of the dome. Whereas the pressure waves at the front of the dome that are caused by the dome’s forward and backwards movement are what we perceive as sound, the corresponding waves issuing from the back of the dome interfere with sound quality. Some manufacturers don’t address this issue at all, while some others use a damper or disperser immediately behind the dome. B&W uses a rather elegant acoustic construction that extracts unwanted energy from the rear of the diaphragm by moving it away to be dissipated inaudibly as it moves down the tube, with the different frequencies being absorbed at different distances down the tube (which requires a fairly long tube). This technique is what B&W refers to as its ‘Nautilus’ technology. As you can see from the 800 D3, the tweeter is mounted in its own ‘Nautilus’ enclosure at the top of the cabinet. This enclosure is vibrationally isolated from the ‘head’ that contains the midrange driver, and this ‘head’ is in turn isolated from the main cabinet that contains the two bass drivers, so that cabinet vibration cannot adversely affect the motion of the midrange or tweeter diaphragms. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the midrange driver of the B&W 800 D3 is contained in its own sub-enclosure, and this also has a Nautilus tube to absorb the unwanted pressure wave from the rear of the midrange cone. This cone, which is 150mm in diameter, is unlike almost all other midrange cones ever made in that it does not have a roll surround around its periphery to assist with cone movement. Instead it uses a ‘suspension’ system B&W has been using for some years now, which it calls a ‘fixed

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B&W 800 D3 LOUDSPEAKERS

ON TEST suspension’, and the drivers that use it ‘Fixed Suspension Transducers’ or ‘FST’ drivers. In reality, the suspension is not ‘fixed’ at all, but instead of connecting to a flexible ring of rubber or foam that moves up and down along with the cone, the cone is instead terminated by a very narrow polymer ring that stretches to accommodate the cone’s movement. This trick is made possible because B&W’s FST drivers operate only over a very narrow band of frequencies that do not require much in the way of cone movement. The advantages are claimed to be improved transient response, improved damping and reduced distortion (this last because the foam ring does not reflect energy back across the cone surface in the same manner as a roll sound). B&W also says that this suspension improves the high-frequency response, so the crossover point to the tweeter can be at a higher frequency than it would otherwise have to be. The midrange cone is made from a material that B&W calls ‘Continuum’ that’s said to have a ‘unique composite construction’ and first appeared on the 802 D3. Continuum must be superior to Kevlar as a cone material, because B&W itself previously used Kevlar in this application. The sub-enclosure in which it’s housed is made from a fibre-glass-like composite B&W calls ‘Marlan’. The tear-drop shape means there are no reflections added to the direct sound, which enables improved imaging. Eliminating reflections and diffractions is one of the reasons the main cabinet of the 800 D3 is curved. When a bass driver is mounted on a standard flat baffle its performance is severely affected by that baffle. Yet, in the main, manufacturers continue to use flat baffles… primarily, it must be said, because it’s so difficult to physically mount a driver on a non-flat surface. B&W has solved the mounting problem by fixing both the bass drivers in the 800 D3 to aluminium tubes that protrude through the baffle. From an engineering viewpoint, this is expensive and difficult. From a visual viewpoint the appearance will be in the eyes of the beholder. I really like the look of the protruding drivers, but several others whose opinion I asked did not share my opinion. If you don’t share my opinion either, B&W supplies a black cloth grille that will hide both bass drivers and another—separate—grille to hide the midrange driver from sight. As for those bass drivers, B&W has also upgraded the material from which they’re made. Whereas B&W previously used a material called Rohacell to make the cones in its flagship designs, it now uses a material it calls ‘Aerofoil’. Since the word aerofoil is already in use to describe the cross-sectional shape of an object that when moved through the air creates an aerodynamic force (i.e. the blade of a helicopter) it seemed odd to me that B&W would use the same word to describe a material. However, we do know that the construction of the cone is very similar to that of B&W’s Rohacell cones, which sandwich a hard foam core between two skins of woven carbon-fibre.

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However, unlike the Rohacell driver, whose foam core is the same thickness everywhere across the cone, the core in the ‘Aerofoil’ cone is not constant over the cone’s diameter, but varies depending on the distance from the point at which it attaches to the voice coil former. Because of this, and the name, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the shape of the core in the ‘aerofoil’ driver is not dissimilar to that of an aerofoil: flat on one side, bulging on the other, and thinning at both ends. Although B&W specifies bass cone diameter at 250mm, this is the mounting hole diameter: the diameter of the moving part of the cone is only 228mm, and the Thiele/Small diameter is 215mm. This puts the cone area (Sd) of each driver at 363cm², for a total cone area of 726cm², so that if B&W had used a single bass driver, it would have had to have had an overall diameter of around 340mm in order to deliver the same amount of bass. The 800 D3 is a vented-box design, with the bass reflex port located underneath the cabinet, which is my favourite location, as it means the room is loaded equally, which doesn’t happen when a port is located on the front or rear of the cabinet. The port itself is B&W’s ‘Flowport’ design, so-named because the surface of the port is dimpled—much like a golf ball—to ensure a smooth flow of air through it. Unlike most down-firing ports, whose performance is affected by the surface on which the loudspeakers stand, B&W’s port ‘fires’ down into the top of the base of the speaker, so dispersion is completely controlled, no matter whether your floor is made of stone, ceramic, wood or carpet. The cabinet itself, apart from being curved internally, is also filled internally with crisscrossed ply/alloy braces to prevent cabinet vibrations and inhibit standing waves… a system B&W calls ‘Matrix’ bracing that it has been developing for many years, this latest iteration being its ‘Optimised Matrix.’ Unlike many curved cabinets, the 800 D3 is a stressed design, so B&W has to use an alloy beam at the rear to contain the stresses. I found this silver beam an unwelcome visual contrast with the Rosenut finish on my sample (I would have preferred a black alloy strut with the Rosenut finish) but that’s really a personal call (beauty being in the eye of the beholder, after all), and since it’s around the back of the speaker, I actually couldn’t see the beam at all from my listening position. But I do think that the silvery colour would better-suit the 800 D3 in its ‘Satin White’ finish. (A Gloss Black finish is also available.) There are four gold-plated multi-way speaker terminals on the rear of the cabinet. The centre two connect to the midrange driver and tweeter and the outer two to the bass drivers to permit bi-wiring or biamping.

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ON TEST

B&W 800 D3 LOUDSPEAKERS

B&W provides short wire links to connect the two sections for those using only a single set of speaker cables. The ‘heads’ of the screw-on connectors are rounded, which makes them difficult to tighten, something I found even more difficult because they didn’t seem to twist smoothly down the post threads, so B&W should talk to its supplier about improving its machining standards. As for their size, I assume that you’ve already assumed that the 800 D3 cabinets are big, and you’d be right, with each one measuring 1217×413×611mm (HWD). If you were wondering what that asterisk on the B&W 800 D3 price is for, along with the reference underneath, ‘*Includes life-time of free hi-res downloads from B&W’ it means that if you buy a pair of B&W 800 D3s you automatically qualify for a life-time membership to B&W’s ‘Society of Sound’ which means you can download hi-res albums and tracks from B&W’s website for free and ‘forever’. The only trick to this is that every time B&W loads a new album to its download site, it also removes one, which is presumably part of its licensing agreement. So to get maximum benefit from membership, you need to download at least two albums every month, which could be annoying to keep remembering to do, but is certainly a clever ploy to keep you involved with the B&W brand!

LISTENING SESSIONS First-off, I have to say that in a review of B&W’s slightly smaller 802 D3s that I wrote fairly quickly as a direct result of first hearing them, I was so smitten by their sound quality and their overall performance that I failed to emphasise one aspect of their design that I absolutely loved and also found immensely practical in day-to-day use. Since that same design feature is also found on the 800 D3s, I will use this review to redeem myself. The design feature to which I refer is simply the fact that these B&W speakers are fitted with wheels (or, if you prefer a more scientifically accurate term, ‘castors’), so they can be moved really easily. They’re also so heavy (96kg per cabinet) that I could hear no difference in sound quality between listening to them whilst on their castors and when listening when they were spiked. The castors make it really—and I mean really!—easy to position the speakers out of the way whenever you’re not listening to them, and wheel them out into the optimum position when you are.

If you find you do prefer the sound when the speakers are on spikes (note that your ability to hear a difference might depend on the floor surface on which the speakers are standing), you will appreciate B&W’s spike design too, because after you’ve wheeled the speakers into the position where they sound the best, all you need to do to raise them on their spikes is reach underneath and spin three sprockets that in turn force the spikes down onto the floor, simultaneously raising the castors so they don’t touch the floor. And if you don’t want the spikes to damage your floor, you can place ‘spike cups’ underneath each spike. You don’t have to buy these from a furniture shop either: B&W supplies them with each pair of speakers, in fact they’re not only supplied—B&W has cleverly integrated these spike cups into the cabinet design so they’re stored underneath the cabinet whenever you’re not using them, making them impossible to accidentally misplace. When I first fired up the B&W 800 D3s I was already anticipating that the gloriously spine-tingling high-frequency sound of the diamond tweeter would grab my attention, as it always has when I’ve auditioned B&W models using it on previous occasions. So I was shocked to find that with the B&W 800 D3s this was most definitely not the case.

Unlike many curved cabinets, the 800 D3 is a stressed design, so B&W has to use an alloy beam at the rear to contain the stresses.

What grabbed my attention the instant the music started was that I was suddenly no longer in my own listening room, but in a concert hall. It was as if the acoustic characteristics of my room had changed, so that my overwhelming impression was of having a sense of their being a huge space. Just as in a concert hall, even before the music starts, you can ‘hear’ the size of the hall you’re in, with the B&W 800 D3s, I was hearing that size… the music was no longer constrained to the physical dimensions of my listening room. This is the first time I’ve experienced this sense of space so acutely. Then there was the glorious sound of Jane Peters’ violin (I was playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto Op 35) beautifully contrasted against the orchestra. No shrillness here, just crystal clarity to her violin’s tone and its extraordinarily resonant sound, even when fully stopped. I was also immediately aware that I was not hearing the left and right speakers at all. Right from the outset I found myself totally immersed in the musical experience. With speakers I have auditioned previously, it has taken me a little listening time to make this transition. Even with the very best speakers, it’s always taken a few minutes… and with some speakers, it’s never happened. With the B&W 800 D3s, there was no transition time at all: the effect was immediate. Switching to a piano concerto (Grieg’s A Minor, Op 16) I was taken aback by the sheer impact of the kettledrum introduction to the first movement (allegro molto moderato), which is punctuated by a full orchestral climax, and then even more taken aback by Simon Tedeschi’s take on what is possibly the most famous piano flourish in classical music, particularly when he attacks the bottom-most notes on the keyboard. The sound from the B&W 800 D3s was effortless—despite the fact that I was playing the work at concert-hall volume levels.

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ON TEST The piano sounded ‘just right’ with its tone totally accurate across all the octaves. The orchestra’s sound was also completely full and powerful. Imaging from the B&W 800 D3s was perfect: the best stereo imaging I’ve ever heard. Listening to the ethereal soprano voice of Sara Macliver as she sang the Pie Jesu from Faure’s Requiem was like being transported to a higher plane. I’d like to say it was as if she and Sinfonia Australis were playing in my living room (they’d just fit), but no, I once again had been transported to the concert hall, with all the musicians perfectly positioned and Macliver’s perfectly-pitched voice centre-stage, but with the harmonics seeming to float through the hall. Her voice also revealed that the transition of sound from the midrange driver to the diamond tweeter is seamless: it’s as if all the sound is issuing from

B&W 800 D3 Loudspeakers Brand: Bowers & Wilkins Model: 800 D3 RRP: $41,900* Warranty: Five Years Distributor: Bowers & Wilkins Australia AddressƕăˁǔǜƬʯ̋ʯƙʕǣǮñŘƋǔǞƋŒǔǷǒ˹Ř˿ ,ǒŘǜʊ˹ɁɁƞÂăĶʹ̋ȴʕ T: (02) 9196 8990 W: www.bowerswilkins.com Ź“ȭƋǚˁƞƬʊǚǔnjƬȊǜǔȧƬɁnjnjʁƬƬǒǔȊʁƬʊ ƞɁ˹ȭǚɁŘƞʊnjʁɁȧ*ūĶ

B&W 800 D3 LOUDSPEAKERS

a single full-range driver—it’s impossible to detect the point at which the sound transitions from the midrange driver to the tweeter. Stevie Wonder’s Superstition has always been a favourite of mine, and through the 800 D3s, that spare kick drum/cymbal intro got my blood pumping even before that great syncopated keyboard riff stabs in. The B&Ws reproduced the biting, cutting, sound of the guitar brilliantly, and when Stevie chimes in with ‘very superstitious, writing’s on the wall’ it was as if he were there in the listening room. But as if to prove that good speakers will always reveal a bad mix, You Are The Sunshine of My Life was delivered too accurately (if there’s even such a thing) as they made very obvious the weird phasing effects that go on for about the first twenty bars. One dares to say that if this track had been monitored using 800 D3s it might have ended up sounding completely different! As I noted when I reviewed the B&W 802 D3s, the 800 D3s’ dispersion is unbelievably good, thanks to the almost flat-faced FST driver and that it’s essentially baffle-less, so there are none of the response aberrations, reflections and timing errors that occur when a midrange driver is mounted on a baffle. The result is a sound-field that was suspended in my listening room so three-dimensionally that the sonic ‘sweet spot’ was almost everywhere. One big difference between the 802 D3 and the 800 D3 that I noted straight away was the improvement in the deep bass. I thought the 802’s bass was fabulous, but the 800 D3’s bass is better again, not just for the way it extends lower-down into the low frequencies, but also for the way seems to have a better ‘grip’, so that I ‘felt’ the bass as a physical presence in the room to a greater extent… as well as hearing it. It would thus appear that their bass power and extension are amongst the reasons the 800 D3 is able to deliver that sense of acoustic space I noted as my ‘first impression’ when listening. But that sense of acoustic space is also helped by the 800 D3’s treble response, which is as clear and pure as I recalled from the 802 D3: very smooth and mannered, such that there’s none of the ‘tizz’ in the extreme highs that is the signature of most hard-domed tweeters, yet without missing out on any highend musical detail, or on any ‘air’ around that detailing.

CONCLUSION Fabulous bass Airy, natural sound Superb high frequencies

Aluminium spine Speaker terminals

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Australian Hi-Fi

In the world of high-end loudspeakers, manufacturers use many methods to convince consumers of the superiority of their particular acoustic creation. Some use physical size, others use sculptural devices, while a few of them provide myriad complex adjustments to encourage ‘listener participation’.

Regrettably, an increasing number of manufacturers are rather crudely just attaching unjustifiably high price tags to inferior products in an attempt to fool consumers into thinking that because their products are expensive, they must somehow be ‘better’ simply because they cost more. B&W has employed an entirely different selling strategy with the 800 D3. It has created a loudspeaker whose sound speaks for itself. Audition a pair and they’ll speak to you. They’ll say: ‘We’re the best speakers you’ve ever heard!’ And in another bonus for Australian buyers, the fact that B&W recently set up its own wholly-owned subsidiary in Australia means that it now doesn’t have to pay another company to distribute its products, which has in turn resulted in price reductions across the entire range, and most particularly in the retail price of the 800 D3s, which has dropped significantly. The B&W 800 D3s are still expensive, of course, but at least—like that classic television advertisement—you’ll be able to tell your significant other how much you’ve greg borrowman saved by waiting.

Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the B&W 800 D3 Loudspeakers should continue on and read the laboratory report published on the following pages. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/ or displayed using graphs and/or photographs should be construed as applying only to the ʊɡƬƋǔǞƋʊŘȧɡǚƬǜƬʊǜƬƞƖ

LABORATORY TEST REPORT Newport Test Labs measured the frequency response of the B&W 800 D3 as extending from 28Hz to 28kHz ±3dB, which is an outstanding result and very close to B&W’s spec of 15Hz to 28kHz ±3dB. This response is shown in Graph 1, where the trace below 1kHz is the averaged result of nine individual frequency sweeps measured at three metres using a pink noise test stimulus with the central grid point on-axis with the tweeter and with the capture unsmoothed. This response has been spliced using post-processing to the gated high-frequency response (measured at a single point at one metre directly on-axis with the B&W 800 D3’s tweeter while its protective cover was in place).

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


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LAB REPORT You can see that the ±3dB variation is caused by roll-off in the low frequencies (below 30Hz). If we restrict the measurement to within the audio band, the trace shows that Newport Test Labs measured the frequency response of the B&W 800 D3 as 20Hz – 20kHz ±2.5dB… obviously an exceptionally flat and linear response. Note, too, that the response is balanced across the audio spectrum, with no ‘tilt’ that would tend to make the speaker sound a little bassy or a little bright. The response is also very uniform, without any real peaks or dips other than one at 9kHz… and this is at such a high frequency, so small and covers such a narrow bandwidth that I do not believe it would be audible. Graph 2 shows the low-frequency response of the B&W 800 D3 measured by Newport Test Labs using a near-field measurement technique that simulates the result that would be obtained in an anechoic chamber. The bass drivers’ response (green trace) is extraordinarily extended, stretching all the way down to 50Hz before starting to roll off, which is around an octave further than most bass drivers manage. And where the bass drivers do start rolling off, you can see the output of the port (the red trace) coming into play with the port’s output peaking at around 27Hz. The output of the port rolls off smoothly either side of this peak, which is good, and although there’s some ‘leakage’ of high frequencies through the port at around 400Hz and around 1kHz, it’s so low in level that it would not be audible. The midrange driver’s response is also superbly flat and linear. The impedance of the B&W 800 D3 drops to 3Ω at 350Hz and 700Hz—a low impedance that B&W acknowledges in its specification. However, whereas B&W specs the ‘nominal’ impedance of the 800 D3 at 8Ω, you can see from the trace on Graph 3 that the impedance

64

ÄˁʊǜʁŘǚǔŘȭŒǔȊhǔ

B&W 800 D3 LOUDSPEAKERS

Graph 1. Frequency response. Trace below 500Hz is the averaged result of nine individual frequency sweeps measured at three metres, with the central grid point on-axis with the tweeter using pink noise test stimulus with capture unsmoothed. This has been manually spliced (at 500Hz) to the gated high-frequency response, an expanded view of which is shown in Graph 2.

110

dBSPL

Newpor Ne wportt Test est Labs a 105

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Graph 2. Low frequency ʁƬʊɡɁȭʊƬ Ɂnj njʁɁȭǜȊǞʁǔȭǷ ŽŘʊʊ ʁƬǡƬ˾ ɡɁʁǜ ɤʁƬƞ trace), woofers (green trace) and midrange driver (blue trace). ÂƬŘʁǞƬǚƞ ŘƋɴˁǔʊǔǜǔɁȭƖ Port/woofer/mid levels not compensated for ƞǔǏƬʁƬȭƋƬʊ ǔȭ ʁŘƞǔŘǜǔȭǷ areas.

Graph 3. Impedance modulus (black trace) with phase (blue trace) showing high-pass (pink trace), low pass (green trace) sections. Orange trace under is reference 3 ohm precision calibration resistor.

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This would suggest to me that you’d be better off considering the B&W 800 D3 as bely a 4Ω design… or perhaps 6Ω. w impedance at high frequencies if you use a Class-D amplifier, to be one of the newer designs erant of such loads. And since the pedance stays mostly below 4Ω rom 70Hz to 900Hz, any amplifier ou use will need to have a high tput current capability. The minrace at 25Hz suggests that B&W t optimistic with its claim for ex5Hz. The phase angle (blue trace) le more than I am used to seeing, ly contained within ±60°, so it le any good-quality amplifier. The ng the low-pass and high-pass he 800 D3 (the pink and green that the electrical crossover is at Hz. Test Labs measured the sensiB&W 800 D3 as 89.5dBSPL at

500

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one metre, for a 2.83Veq input, under its standard test protocol, a figure that is only very slightly lower than B&W’s specification of 90dBSPL… and so close to it that the difference is inconsequential. It also means that the B&W 800 D3 is remarkably efficient for such a large speaker with such a flat and extended frequency response and further means it will perform well even with low-powered amplifiers… though I would not recommend using any amplifier with a power output of lower than 100-watts per channel, just to ensure you can make the most of the 800 D3’s dynamic capabilities when playing at higher listening levels. The B&W 800 D3 returned a flatter, more extended frequency response than any other non-DSP corrected loudspeaker Newport Test Labs has ever measured, and did so whilst maintaining high efficiency. It’s a design that B&W’s engineers are no doubt very proud of… and if I were on B&W’s design team, I Steve Holding would be very proud too.

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


ROCK ON

by Jez Ford

STILLS & COLLINS

RICK PARFITT

Eek, awkward or what? It’s a musical ‘Back with the Ex’ as the former lovers of legend reunite for a crowd-funded album and tour, but if Stills is still pining for his Judy Blue Eyes, it’s hard to believe this collection will re-stoke the fire. At their best the voices meld well in harmony, but it’s a mixed bag, the cover versions especially disappointing. The Wilburys’ Handle with Care is little differentiated from the original and can’t match its quality, while the constant harmonies laboured through Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows sound more karaoke than classic cut. Better are Houses, Judy’s song about Stills, and Judy, one of several Stills songs about her, and the slower chorus harmonies of Stills’ So Begins the Task and Collins’ River of Gold. Our supplied files (from Sony via MPE) betrayed high frequency instabilities, but a check of other sources yielded problem-free files.

When Rick Parfitt fell ill in 2016, it left the Quo fulfilling a booked tour and concert movie without him, with the album and film released as ‘Last Night of the Electrics’. Despite Francis Rossi giving his head to the hits it lacked energy in both the performance and a rather muddy mix, so it’s an unexpectedly welcome coda to find that Parfitt had been working on a solo album, its final polishing completed posthumously by producer/musician/co-writer Jo Webb with assistance from friends and family including Rick Parfitt Jnr, Queen’s Brian May, Muse’s Chris Wolstenholme and Quo’s Alan Lancaster and John ‘Rhino’ Edwards, all given a lively mix by Biffco’s Ash Howes (a less ‘produced’ version of the mix is available as an extra in the Deluxe edition). Parfitt’s only other solo work in 1985 was never released, yet this has quality beyond mere commemorative value, and diversity too—perhaps half of the 10 tracks mine that classic 12-bar groove (the riff two minutes into Lonesome Road could be heralding Caroline or Down Down), but things branch increasingly wide as it progresses, a reminder that Quo, too, had more strings to its bow than that riff. So the spookily-appropriate title track is delightfully sweet and acoustic, When I Was Fallin’ In Love could be a lost tune from the Wilburys/Petty/Lynne songbook, and we get as far as strings and piano on Without You. If the lyrics are less than poetic, the layered arrangements highlight Parfitt’s talent at laying down tone, crunch, rhythm and solos. And nothing sounds unfinished or patched, so kudos to those who brought his final blues to our door.

Everybody Knows

FOREIGNER With the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus This live performance of band plus orchestra and choir makes an enjoyable end-to-end performance, though most tracks are individually faded rather than gapless. Aside from occasional new intro sections (Urgent and Jukebox Hero being especially fun) the orchestra is supplemental rather than fundamental, adding depth and tone rather than re-scoring guitar solos for oboe or other such sins, though this approach does miss opportunities for more imaginative arrangements rather than merely expansions of the originals. Why keep the synth intro to Waiting For A Girl Like You or the Hammond solo of Cold as Ice with such a broader palette to hand? Still, the hits are here, the band rocks, and the performance is well-captured, so you can sample this before buying tickets for the Oct–Nov orchestral tour of Australia or their headlining of a seven-day ‘Rock The Boat’ cruise alongside Russell Morris, Ross Wilson and, um, Shannon Noll.

BOB DYLAN

Highway 61 Revisited (Mo-Fi vinyl) Dylan’s 1965 sixth album gets the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab treatment with a restored analogue mono version pressed at 45rpm across four sides, the increased vinyl resolution maximised by playing the ‘master’ at half speed while cut using Tim de Paravicini’s GAIN 2 Ultra Analog system, comprising a customised Studer and handcrafted cutting amps driving an Ortofon cutting head on a restored Neumann VMS-70 lathe. The price of such attention to detail is $95 from local Mo-Fi distributor Synergy Audio, and while it’s odd having the songs split across so many sides, the yield is tape-like clarity, time-transported reality as Mike Bloomfield’s magnificent guitar leads Dylan’s electric transformation. Vinyl pundit Michael Fremer rates Mo-Fi’s pressing above anything but first lacquer 1A and 1B originals... and good luck finding one of those. This is pleasure worth the price.

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Australian Hi-Fi

Over and Out

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT NBC Television Event The team behind this NBC ‘event’ includes its own superstars—John Legend as Christ, Alice Cooper for the Herod cameo, Rice and Lloyd Webber themselves as executive producers, plus Tony and Emmy award-winners enough to stack a cabinet high. Musical director Nigel Wright is retained from the most recent JSC arena tour and delivers an impeccable band—those who love the score’s powerful rock, strings and horns combo won’t be disappointed, and the recording is fine. Individual performances vary. Judas is played by Brandon Victor Dixon, hot from playing Hamilton’s Aaron Burr (a villain, which Rice’s Judas is not), and he scores an instant hit, spinning Heaven On Their Minds very much to his own advantage. Jin Ha is spot on for Annas (John Paul Young’s role in the 1970s Australian production), while the talented Sara Bareilles, authoress of the wonderful ‘Waitress’ musical, blows hot and cold here as Magdelene. The crucial let-down, from his very first line, is Legend’s poor casting as Jesus, for which he lacks the softness, the high tenor register and the powerful falsetto required. This also negates the useful vocal distinction between Jesus and the lower register of Judas, particularly in the two-handers of Strange Thing Mystifying and The Last Supper, in which Dixon wildly outclasses Legend, who then goes on to crucify the usually thrilling Gethsemane. Another irritation is the audience, mixed far too loud, screaming when particular stars come on stage, and most intrusively going X-Factor wild whenever Legend attempts one of his faltering falsetto notes; this should all have been reined in for the audio release. Any new JCS release is welcomed, but this one ranks in the lower echelons of available recordings. Jez Ford ˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


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JAZZ TRACK

by John Shand

JONATHAN CRAYFORD

GIAN SLATER & HIERONYMUS TRIO

In collaborating with the stellar New York rhythm section of bassist Ben Street and drummer Dan Weiss, New Zealand pianist Jonathan Crayford steers well clear of the mentality of using Big Apple musicians as a proving ground for one’s own musicianship. The playing here is often about restraint rather than rampant virtuosity, and the real stars are the compositions. Crayford composes with all the care of a sculptor delicately chiselling at a slab of marble, so the pieces become fields for very specific forms of improvising that elaborate upon the story inherent in each work. Often these are stories in which some level of disquiet is the dominant mood. The opening Subito, for instance, has a glow of autumnal lyricism about it against which Weiss lays a vague undercurrent of agitation.

This music, sophisticated in both conception and execution, results from a collaboration between Sydney’s Hieronymus Trio and the Melbourne vocalist Gian Slater. The trio’s gifted Emma Stephenson has composed six songs that fall within the somewhat foggy realm of art music as much as that of jazz, with a diaphanous beauty built upon ever-shifting fabric, like a butterfly’s wing changing colours with the light. That Stephenson can not only generate such original musical and structural ideas, but also pen enthralling lyrics, marks her as a bold new force. As an improvising pianist she has developed a distinctive vocabulary in conjunction with the understatement of bassist Nick Henderson and drummer Oli Nelson, while Slater brings her voice’s grace and purity (plus unerring instincts for musicality) to bear upon the words and airy melodies.

SPLINTER ORCHESTRA

TINA RAYMOND

Can human-made music become part of the natural soundscape? That is the question asked by the 21-piece Splinter Orchestra on this three-album set recorded on a dry lake bed in the Mungo National Park. The answer is an emphatic affirmative. This is not large-scale improvisation as a free-forall, but as a taut, disciplined exercise in moderation. It’s also a response to the immediate environment, while still allowing fairly unfettered creativity and interaction. Avoiding self-conscious contributions is crucial, as these players (who include such exceptional improvisers as Jim Denley, Laura Altman, Peter Farrar, and Cor Fuhler) know. The music’s very minimalism may alienate some listeners, but those who fully engage will be transported, not just in a spatial and environmental sense, but almost into another way of listening.

The Trump presidency prompted LA drummer Tina Raymond to record her first album as leader, its title referring to the US political landscape: left-leaning on either coast; the right entrenched in the middle. Raymond, pianist Art Lande and bassist Putter Smith have made convincing improvising vehicles of material by such champions of progressivism as Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. To prove she wasn’t out to knife her country in the back Raymond has also included anthems of US patriotism, such as a startling Battle Hymn of the Republic, complete with parade-ground drumming that unravels without losing its martial quality. Lande finds something fascinating to say on everything, being one of the rare pianists to fully intertwine impressionism and a more sinewy swing, while Smith brings a chunky sound and flair for lyricism.

JOHN HARKINS TRIO

SHARNY RUSSELL

I like the fact that pianist John Harkins is not a prolific composer. The three originals on this nine-track album not only stand up among the astutely chosen standards, they include one tune that deserves to become a standard in its own right. Called Kathleen Mary, it is performed with a bossa lilt to the rhythm, even as the gorgeous melody suggests that malleability whereby it could swing, be funky or played as a ballad, and work just as well. Elegance is a hallmark of this music. Harkins, bassist Brendan Clarke and drummer Andrew Dickeson have arrived at a restrained, timeless, manicured approach to making jazz, in which no note is out of place. The corollary is that there are few surprises, but the grooves are always buoyant and the soloing always vibrant.

Sharny Russell lives on the NSW North Coast, and it’s not much of a stretch to hear hints of a breezier lifestyle and even a little sun and surf in her song-writing and singing, in a certain blitheness of tone and approach. That sunniness in her voice is especially prominent when she improvises. Russell’s scatting never feels laboured, instead having an appealing effortlessness, as though it rides on a natural updraft emanating from the song and the surrounding playing. Much the same could be said of her song-writing, although some pieces compromise the high quality established by the rest, and should have been dropped. Her voice and piano playing are well served by a core band of Paul Cutlan (reeds), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Gordon Rytmeister (drums). John Shand [www.johnshand.com.au]

East West Moon (Rattle/Birdland RAT-J-1033)

Mungo (Splitrec 27)

The Girl Next Door (www.johnharkinsjazz.com)

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Australian Hi-Fi

Where the Rest of the World Begins (54 Records CD5402)

³ƬǢõǔǷǒǜ³ƬǢ (Orenda 0039)

Comes A Time (Treasure House Music sharnyrussell.com)

˹˹˹ƖŘˁʊǒǔǞƖƋɁȧ


Still s own Be st Following on from the Multi winning RI-100 – we introduce the RI-101 The overall design of the NEW RI-101 is the same as the original RI-100 with identical power and output stages. But that’s where the similarity stops. The input stage in the power amplifier is significantly updated and major upgrades incorporated in the preamplifier section lowers the noise level, which delivers enhanced resolution and “blackness”. We have brought the sound of the RI-101 a bit closer to that of the SIA-025 and implemented the much higher resolution volume control from our SL-103 and MP-L201 models, however that said the RI-101 is still its own beast and offers the music listener its own unique musical experience.

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BLU-RAY REVIEWS – Different Tastes Alter Bridge: Live at Wembley

Director: Daniel E Catullo III Starring: Myles Kennedy, Mark Tremonti, Scott Phillips, Brian Marshall.

A MusiCares Tribute to Barbra Streisand

Starring: Streisand, Diana Krall, Seal, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Beck, LeAnn Rimes, BeBe Winans, Faith Hill, Matthew Morrison, Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Arturo Sandoval.

Show: A– | Picture: A | Sound: A– | Extras: B

M

y ignorance was exposed when Via Vision included this disc with a few it had sent through for review. Alter Bridge? Never heard of them. When I get a Blu-ray review disc I first pop it into my computer’s disc drive and run an analysis program on it. That gives me useful information about such things as the average bit-rate of the video, confirms (or otherwise) the claimed audio standards and so on. Then I run a Blu-ray software player which provides additional tech data on the disc, and I pile all that into a database I’ve been maintaining for lo these last two decades. In the remarks field I typed ‘Creed similarities’. That’s because the moment I started the disc running in the player, I thought ‘Creed’, the huge 90s band, with its heavy sound, occasionally Christian themes and its 25× Platinum US and 6× Platinum Australian album sales. But there’s a documentary on this disc too about Alter Bridge, and this opened with the breakup of Creed. Aha, this is the same band as ‘Human Clay’ period Creed, with a new vocalist. The genre is variously alt metal, progressive metal and hard rock. And, yes, it has a definite Creed flavour. The singer, Myles Kenneday, has a classic ‘metal’ voice and the instrumentalists have plenty of time to show their virtuosity, with some very flashy guitar solos scattered through the 21 live performances. As heavy groups must, seemingly by force of custom, there’s a quite lovely acoustic ballad (Wonderful Life) in the middle of the concert. The disc has a generous play time of two hours. The excitement starts with an intro to the main menu with graphical sailing ships firing canon with wonderful oomph. When you select play, you’re tossed into a two minute long animated DTS-HD logo. Then onto the concert… with the stereo (24 bit) LPCM track engaged by default. My receiver happened to have Dolby Surround mode engaged, and clearly there’s plenty of extractable surround information even in the two-channel track. The stereo track is a little cleaner than the surround. In the surround mix the underlying crowd sounds softened the dynamic impact slightly by removing the ‘space’ between the musical notes. Still, all the instruments and vocals are clean and well-balanced, while the bass is appropriately heavy. The crowd is very enthusiastic, singing along with these mighty songs. This isn’t challenging music, but extremely well done as it nicely explores the line between power ballads and heavy metal. There’s a nice extra in the box: a CD containing 14 of the 21 tracks. Unfortunately, you can’t squeeze a full two-hour concert onto a CD.

Movie: A– | Picture: A | Sound: A | Extras: D

M

usicares is an American music industry charity established nearly thirty years ago ‘to help artists in critical need’. Each year it gives a ‘Person of the Year’ award to a prominent musician who has also been sufficiently philanthropic. I’d say more, but there’s really nothing much on the disc describing the purpose of the concert. I assume that it raises a pile of money for the charity. In 2011 Barbra Streisand was the honouree. The 65-minute concert consists of a bunch of other prominent artists covering some of the songs for which she was known over her career. The lady herself does the last couple. I spent much of my life dismissive of so-called MoR music, while simultaneously excusing some of my favourite artists as ‘not MoR’ for some reason or other. But the reality is that Streisand is middle of the road, and she’s one of the many artists that make much MoR well worth listening to. Most of this concert is well worth listening to. Streisand was the one of the first artists I heard on CD, at a CD player demo, before their release, at a hi-fi store here in Canberra. When I purchased my first CD player—a Sony CDP-101—hours after they were launched, I bought ‘Guilty’, that Streisand CD. I may never have purchased her at all, except in those early days there was almost nothing available on CD. I loved Seal’s version of Guilty. These renditions range from fairly faithful reproductions of Streisand’s versions, through to some which are almost unrecognisable. His was instrumentally identical to the original, but with Seal’s gorgeously smooth vocals a fitting replacement for Streisand’s. Another highlight was the Jeff Beck, LeAnn Rimes and BeBe Winans performance of Come Rain or Come Shine. Yes, that Jeff Beck. I would never have thought of it, but his guitar made a superb third voice in what became effectively a trio. Less successful was Barry Manilow’s by-the-numbers Memory. I don’t know who, if anyone else, was lip syncing, but his microphone non-technique made it clear that he was. The sound quality was a little variable too. Streisand herself sounded excellent (albeit with a stack of reverb dialled in). But Diana Krall’s microphone was a big zingy, and her piano a touch too quiet, unfocused. There was also noticeable sibilance on Leona Lewis’ superb rendition of Somewhere. The music comes with 24 bit, 48kHz sampling in both 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio and stereo LPCM. The surround mix makes little use of the surround channels, just feeding them some of that reverb for a sense of hall space, along with the audience applause. The disc defaults to the 5.1 mix. Stephen Dawson

FEATURES

FEATURES

Running time: 118 minutes

Running time: 65 minutes

Picture: 1.78:1, 1080i60, MPEG4 AVC @ 24.36Mbps

Picture: 1.78:1, 1080i60, MPEG4 AVC @ 34.94Mbps

Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/2.1 @ 5052kbps (core: DTS

Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/2.1 @ 4533kbps (core: DTS

24/48 3/2.1 @ 1509kbps); English: LPCM 24/48 2/0.0 @ 2304kbps

24/48 3/2.1 @ 1509kbps); English: LPCM 24/48 2/0.0 @ 2304kbps

Subtitles: Nil

Subtitles: Nil

Features: CD with 14 tracks; Documentary (1080p24 - 55 mins); Photo gal-

Features: Featurette (1080i60 - 2 mins)

lery (1080i60 - 9 mins)

Restrictions: Exempt, Region Free

Restrictions: Exempt, Region Free

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Australian Hi-Fi

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IF YOU ARE SERIOUS ABOUT HIFI Audiophile & Cds, Audio Magazines, Audiolab, Arcam, Benz Micro, Conrad Johnson, Jas, McCormack, N.A.D., Nordost, Naim, Quad, Silver Sonic, Sound Reference, Vandersteen.

CAXTON AUDIO (07) 3368 3566 18 LATROBE TERRACE PADDINGTON QLD 4064

www.caxtonaudio.com.au

If you want the best in hi-fi, hear now in our Melbourne showroom:

Conrad Johnson, McCormack, Jas, Vandersteen, DH Labs, Naim, Benz Micro, Audiolab, Nordost, Silver Sonics and Quad ESL’s.

Sound Reference Melbourne Level 1 (upstairs) / 191 Smith Street (Front entrance on Charles Street)

Fitzroy VIC 3065 Phone: 03 9495 6500 Mon - Fri 11am - 5pm & Sat 10 - 4pm Appointment preferred, but not necessary. Please call for price & availability of products.

www.caxtonaudio.com.au

SYDNEY AUDIO CLUB Sharing Great Music & Great Sound The Sydney Audio Club was formed in 2007 to provide opportunities for music lovers to come together and share our diverse musical interests and the pursuit of high quality sound reproduction. We are a very friendly club so you don’t need to know anyone to join us for an afternoon of ine music and sound. We will welcome you at the door.

www.sydneyaudioclub.org.au enquiries@sydneyaudioclub.org.au

8/585 Blackburn Road, Notting Hill, VIC 3168 Tel: 03 8555 0735 email: sales@classaaudio.com.au www.classaaudio.com.au

pass labs

Established since 2004, we are experts in Hi End Audio & Visual Sales, Installation, and Repairs. ‡ Best pricing: we want your business! We work with you to get the best price and best Hi Fi gear. ‡ Quite demonstration rooms.

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DIO SOLUTIONS has been an Australian er in audio, video and home automation more than 15 years. And this success is the PXSJSYVWEXMWǻIHGYWXSQIVWVIGSQQIRHMRK SSXLIVTISTPIEJXIVIRNS]MRKXLIMVS[R ommendations from the Audio Solutions Q+VSQXLIWMQTPIWXSJLMǻX[IEOWXS LMKLIWXPIZIPWSJGYWXSQMRWXEPPEXMSR[I ORS[RERHVIWTIGXIHJSVSYVI\XIRWMZI HYGXORS[PIHKIERHEXXIRXMSRXSHIXEMP

AUDIO SOLUTIONS

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Built on recommendations — ours and yours.

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AUDIO SOLUTIONS. Your one-stop shop for all things HI-FI.

Contact

1195 Botany Road Mascot NSW 2020 02 9317 3330

www.audiosolutions.net.au info@audiosolutions.net.au


A WORLD OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT PARASOUND | KEF | ELAC | BOSE | PROJECT | REGA | QUESTYLE | SONOS | CHORD | HEOS | MARANTZ | CAMBRIDGE AUDIO AND MORE!

We are the longest established Hi Fi business MRXLIWEQIPSGEXMSRMR7]HRI]%PPSJSYV TVSHYGXWEVIKIRYMRI%YWXVEPMERWXSGO[MXL %YWXVEPMERQERYJEGXYVIVŭW[EVVERX]

Visit us at 283 Victoria Rd, Marrickville NSW 2204 P 1300 MY HIFI 1300 694 434 E WEPIW$ETSPPSLMƤGSQEY W [[[ETSPPSLMƤGSQEY


SPEAKER OF THE YEAR

Mcleans means music. NOW AVAILABLE!

NUPRIME AMPLIFIERS & DACS!

The Linear Tube Audio amplifier range features the revolutionary ZOTL technology for stunningly realistic sound, created by worldleading amplifier designer David Berning.

With its flat-panel design the Magneplanar 1.7i is 64.5 inches tall and a mere 2 inches thick. Featuring a three-way design, with a woofer, tweeter, and supertweeter the Magneplanar 1.7i is a "full-range" ribbon design producing a more lifelike sound than cone and dome driver designs.

The Line Magnetic Audio 216IA KT88 is a superbly designed and impeccably made push pull integrated amplifier. • Ultra linear and triode switchable • 22 watts per channel in triode, 38 watts per channel in ultra linear • Remote controlled • Bias adjustable with built in meter

NEW Ask us about the NEW MAGNEPAN .7 – High-End Audio where space is at a premium All models available include: MMGi · MG.7 · MG3.7i · MG20.7 DWM · CC5 · CCR · MCC1

WANT THE VERY BEST SOUND FOR YOUR HOME? Mcleans means expert advice.

Ask us about our range of other Line Magnetic Audio models!

The Sanders Magtech solid state stereo amplifier is steadily building a very happy customer base and a reputation for power finesse and a big tube like sound from its 500 watts into 8ohms/900 watts into

With the Orangutan O/96 DeVORE FIDELITY brings it’s award-winning blend of musicality and accuracy to a new speaker designed especially for low-powered tube amplifiers. 10” paper cone with a phase-plug powered by a motor adapted from the Silverback Reference drivers. 1” silk-dome tweeter with a powerful double-magnet motor system gently horn-loaded. It is a ‘Stereophile Class A’ recommended loudspeaker. “An extremely well-crafted loudspeaker that achieves a combination of strengths that is, as far as I know, unique. The O/96 is distinctly easy to drive with low-power amplifiers, yet it’s clearer, wider of bandwidth, and more spatially accomplished than most other high-sensitivity loudspeakers.” ART DUDLEY, STEREOPHILE.COM

NEW M3 TRIODE MASTER AVAILABLE NOW!

Hologram M4 Turbos S and M3 Turbo S Open-Baffle loudspeakers by Spatial from $4,290 ‘Box speakers are finally obsolete. A beautifully natural and transparent sounding loudspeaker in a compact, plug and play design. All Analog no DSP required.‘ CLAYTON SHAW, SPATIAL DESIGNER

Also Available: Orangutan 093 & Gibbon 3XL

Aqua Acoustic’s new Formula xHD DAC is now available for audition at Mcleans. Aqua was founded in Italy and proudly carries on musical excellence, artistic tradition, the spirit of innovation. Visit our website to find out more about their highend product range and find links to reviews.

eans Smarter Home Entertainment p 1, 41-45 Victoria Street, East Gosford phone 1300 995 448 | www.mcleans.info


NATURAL, ORGANIC HI-END SOUND FROM YOUR SYSTEM

GNR Mini V3.1 A revolution in audio/AV system grounding.

Ask about our beautifully crafted, high quality cables and tuning accessories.

Proudly distributed in Australia by GROOVEWORKS Neerim South VICTORIA 3831 - Tel: (03) 5628 4428 - www.recordclean.com.au


High-end Audio at an affordable price.

Oracle the Origine Turntable. Please call us for a special price with Benz Micro cartridge set up. ONLY 3 AVAILABLE

WEISS DAC 501 AND 502

The DAC501 / DAC502 are the new state of the art D/A Converters with an unprecedented level of sophistication and versatility.

P 03 9578 8658 M 0403 368 755 Visit us 224 McKinnon Road, McKinnon VIC 3204 www.soundgallery.com.au info@soundgallery.com.au


SERVING AUSTRALIANS FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS We have developed a reputation for our expertise in high-end 2 channel audio since 1987. Today, not only do we continue our tradition of high-end audio, we also specialise in smart home solutions. Speak to our experienced team who can consult, design and install the perfect smart home solution for you.

Services we provide: • • • •

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Audio Video Setups Acoustic treatments Two channel and multi channel audio solutions On-site consultations & advice on technologies to suit your home Wi-Fi and internet solutions Installation services Smart home solutions

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Home audio visual cabling advice Home security and access control solutions Full wiring schematic drawing documentation and plans Project Management – working with all trades involved

OUR BRANDS Arcam · Autonomic · Ayre · Burmester · Clearaudio · Control4 · D’Agostino · Dali DCS · Definitive Technology · Denon · GoldenEar Technology · Flexson · Gryphon · Hegel · KEF Lilin Security · Linn · Lyngdorf · Mark Levinston · MBL · Nordost · Padimount · Revel · Sonos Sony · Steinway Lyngdorf · Pass Labs · Pathos · T+A · TruAudio · VideoStorm · VTL · Wilson Audio Audio Connection Leichhardt Unit 3-4 / 509-529 Parramatta Rd (Cnr Parramatta Rd & Elswick St) Leichhardt NSW 2040

Contact Phone: 02 9561 0788 Email sales@audioconnection.com.au Web: www.audioconnection.com.au


OBITUARY

JOHN SUNIER 1936–2018

W

riter and broadcaster John Sunier, whose radio program Audiophile Audition was broadcast nationally throughout North America every week for more than a decade, and who wrote music reviews for many audio magazines, including Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, has died aged 82. Audiophile Audition was a national radio program for audio buffs and music lovers that entertained millions of public radio and concert music station listeners for nearly fourteen years. The hour-long weekly program began in April 1985 with 53 stations, and ended up being carried on 200 station across the USA—both public and commercial. In addition to being involved in radio broadcasting and audio for more than five decades, Sunier was also a well-known classical and jazz music reviewer. For ten years he wrote a regular monthly column for US magazine Audio, and also wrote reviews for AudiophileFile, The Sensible Sound, AudioXpress, and at the time of his death had been contributing a regular column titled ‘Super Fidelity’ to Australian Hi-Fi Magazine for more than fifteen years. He also authored three books about audio, one of which, ‘The Story of Stereo 1881–’, published by Gernsback Library (New York), is now available in pdf format at avhub. com.au/story_stereo_sunier. It was largely based on the thesis for his degree of Master of Science from Boston University, which is also available in pdf format at avhub.com.au/stereo_sound_sunier. Sunier’s other books were ‘A History of Stereo Sound’ and ‘Slidesound and Filmstrip Production’. Born John Henry Sunier on November 30, 1936, in Iowa City, the son of John Henry Senior and Johanna (Graf) Sunier, Sunier studied at the University of Iowa, where he received his Bachelor in Music in 1959, after which he worked at radio stations WSUI and KSUI. He then moved to Boston to work at WGBH-FM.

82

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While working at WGBG-FM, Sunier studied part time at Boston University, where he was awarded a Master of Science (Communications).Sunier produced the educational radio series ‘The Standard School Broadcast’ for six years, and later became Director of Sound for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Films. He was program director and/or manager for several FM stations in San Francisco, as well as editor of FM Guide and Sound Advice magazines and founder and editor of the specialist binaural recording magazine The Binaural Source. When Audiophile Audition ceased broadcasting, Sunier moved to Portland, Oregon taking along his harpsichord, his piano, loads of SACDs, DVD-As, xrcds, CDs, LDs, DVDs,

LPs, cylinder records, and various tapes, plus a pair of Tonkinese cats, and established the website ‘Audiophile Audition’ [www.audaud. com], which is now one of the world’s premiere sources of reviews of recorded music, particularly of high-resolution recordings. ‘John was recognised far and wide as a definitive expert in all matters audio, all matters for audiophiles,’ said Paul Henerlau, manager at Audiophile Audition, ‘and his incredible energy and drive found a distinctive expression in Audiophile Audition. In the last year of his life, John stepped back from his beloved website, assuming more of a Professor Emeritus role.’ John is survived by his wife of 32 years, Rod Easdown Donna (Dorsett).

Pictured at the piano on his 75th birthday, taking requests.

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The biggest small music system LS50 Wireless â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Immerse yourself in power and finesse Prepare to be swept away. Never before have bookshelf speakers produced such scale and detail. The KEF LS50 Wireless is a complete system that delivers audiophile-grade sound in real stereo. Five minutes from unboxing, just add your music and enjoy. No wonder respected reviewers call it the future of Hi-Fi. Listen for yourself. â&#x20AC;Śau.kef.com 24bit/192kHz

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Yamaha RX-A3070 AV Receiver of the Year Over $2,000

Australian hifi may june 2018  
Australian hifi may june 2018  
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