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Vivid Audio’s Kaya 90 Luxman P-750u



Pro-Ject Debut III S ‘Audiophile’ version of budget LP spinner

From the Vault

1957 and the dawn of stereo

McIntosh MA9000 The biggest Mac yet!

Naim Audio NDX 2 THE

Netw Ne Network-attached DAC

hi-fi SHOW 10-11 November mber See p19

• PLUS 18 pages of music • VINYL RE-RELEASE Nico’s Chelsea Girl on 180g vinyl • OPINION 12 pages of comment • VINTAGE Technics EPC-205CMK3 cartridge •S SHOW BLOG Hong Kong Expo • READERS’ CLASSIFIEDS Hi-Fi bargains galore

UK £5.25 US $13.00 Aus $13.50


Portable brand’s first high-end desktop DAC BUDGET ESOTERICA



iFi Audio Pro iDSD


Flagship headphone amp




Classical Companion


Christopher Breunig considers the recordings of composer, pianist and conductor Leonard Bernstein



Vinyl Release 19

Vinyl Icon



30 56

Music Reviews 60





These aren’t the Ƃrst headphones claiming to tailor their sound to your individual hearing, but can they deliver audiophile performance?

Luxman P-750u Range-topping headphone amp gains improved power supply and balanced outputs. Best in class?

Turntable maestro expands its most popular range with a deck boasting a new upmarket arm and cartridge


Investigation Barry Fox talks to the experts at The British Library who explain how best to store, back-up and keep your digital music Ƃles safe from harm

103 Opinion Comment on the hot audio topics of the day from Andrew Everard, Barry Fox, Jim Lesurf, Steve Harris and, writing from the US, Barry Willis

112 Sound Off Making sense of Mark Levinson’s ‘Pure Phono’ module, drilling down on HFN test procedures, the pros and cons of closed-box loudspeakers

138 Off The Leash Ken Kessler wonders if it’s too late to champion CD, now streaming has become the king of convenience

McIntosh MA9000

Marantz ND8006/PM8006 Network music/CD player/DAC and matching amp pairing promise to be your one-stop digital solution


Audeara A-01

Pro-Ject Debut III S Audiophile

Company unveils its most powerful integrated amp/DAC yet, but will the music match the muscle?


iFi Audio Pro iDSD Highly ƃexible headphone amp/DAC rewards with a scintillating sound – provided you learn how to use it. Start your journey here...

Vivid Audio Kaya 90 A gripping listen... We hear the ƃagship speaker in South African Ƃrm’s ‘décor-friendly’ Kaya range

Naim Audio NDX 2 The Salisbury company has updated its ND-series of network music players. We hear the mid-range NDX 2 to see if it’s worth the premium price

Our selection of audiophile LP and hi-res downloads reviewed by our specialists alongside the latest rock, jazz and classical albums


Show Blog British brands rub shoulders with local names to ensure the 2018 Hong Kong AV Expo is still a show full of surprises. Bob Hawkins reports

Meet The Producers From BadƂnger to Bat Out Of Hell, Todd Rundgren made his mark taking cult acts into the charts. Steve Sutherland has the story...

Hi-Fi Show Live 2018 A preview of our November show

Rejected by their record label, song lyrics banned by the BBC... Johnny Black on the dramas behind Squeeze’s 1979 LP Cool For Cats


News Raidho speakers with isodynamic tweeters, big-ticket horn from Klipsch, revamp for Krell’s KAV-300i, Hegel’s statement integrated amp

Steve Sutherland listens to the 180g reissue of Nico’s Chelsea Girl, but why on Ƃrst release was this landmark LP loathed by the singer?


Welcome A message from the editor

Marten Mingus Quintet Can this £42.5k ƃoorstander truly deliver the sound of the company’s ƃagship £350k Coltrane speaker?

VINTAGE 118 Vintage Review Can a moving-magnetic pick-up from 1979 still pack a punch today? We test the Technics EPC-205CMK3

124 From The Vault This month we return to HFN May ’57 to meet the faces gathered at the London Audio Fair, where stereo is played to the public for the Ƃrst time

LEFT: Designed to cover all your music needs, from LPs and CDs to multi-DSD – Marantz’s ND8006 network player (top) and PM8006 amp with phono stage. See p48

ABOVE: The British Library stores over a million discs. We talk to its archivists about preserving digital music Ƃles. See p30

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 3



Distributors of exquisite audio equipment Tel +44 (0)1900 601954

EST. 1983




DUET from Crystal Cable PORTABLE LVWKHČ´UVW portable cable in the Crystal Cable range and uses proprietary Silver-Gold conductors with a pure silver shield. Available with a wide selection of terminations DUET provides absolute high-end sound and superb musicality to your favorite headphone or portable HD player.

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Optimised for the ultimate listening experience in any room. The R-N803D Hi-Fi receiver combines Yamaha’s legendary Hi-Fi design concept ToP-ART with Yamaha’s famed room correction technology (YPAO). The complete music hub – enjoying your favourite music on vinyl, streaming services, USB stick, smart phone via Bluetooth or Airplay and even TV sound is possible. Your music everywhere - share with any room in the house using MusicCast.

Say goodbye to bad sound with the R-N803D.

Prisma provides multi-room/multi-zone connectivity and control for playback of stored and streamed media, wired or wireless, all managed from a mobile device through a dedicated system control app. In addition to Bluetooth®, AirPlay, and Spotify Connect, Prisma features Chromecast built-in, a unique streaming portal allowing effortless direct connection to hundreds of streaming applications, including Roon, TIDAL, Qobuz, Deezer, Google Play Music, TuneIn and BBC radio, for the best possible performance and user experience. Initially available in the new I15 Prisma integrated amplifier, I35 Prisma integrated amplifier, and CD35 Prisma CD player – with more to come. For more on all our new Primare models go to

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To find out more information and your nearest dealers contact: Vivid Audio UK, Unit 6, Star Road Partridge Green RH138RA Email: Tel: +44 1403 713125


H D A – High Definition Audio, brings the ultimate in quality to the music that we love. And it is not just a coincidence that we’ve also named our latest range line-up, HDA; A new range of amplifiers and players from Arcam that will bring high definition audio into your home, with unsurpassed clarity and enjoyment.

The West Wing, Stirling House, Waterbeach, Cambridge, CB25 9PB, United Kingdom




N °2

Kanta introduces a new vision of the Premium loudspeaker. Completely dedicated to performance, for the first time it combines a Flax sandwich cone speaker driver with a legendary Beryllium tweeter. It delivers a precise, detailed sound that brims with warmth and musicality. With its incredible style and its broad range of finishes, Kanta delights the eyes as much as the ears‌

Performance meets style Visit to discover more.

The new 800 Series Diamond didn’t get better by chance. It got better by change. 868 changes to be precise.

SEP/18 RIGHT: Conceived by medics specialising in hearing loss, does the DSP-equipped Audeara A-01 offer audiophile treatment? In-depth review on p64


ABOVE: IFi Audio’s most comprehensive DAC/headphone amp is a distillation of all things digital into a very compact box! See p60

hile the UK has been basking in an uncommonly hot summer, owners of big tube amps and solid-state Class A monsters are likely to be reaching for the off switch and donning a new pair of high-end headphones to keep the music playing. But if a steamy summer is hardly traditional Blighty fare then the same cannot be said for the Proms, some 123 years young, Ƃrst broadcast by the BBC over 90 years ago and now more musically diverse than ever. Our commentator on all things Beeb-related, Jim Lesurf, regularly updates HFN readers on the quality of its broadcasts and will be reporting on the Proms in particular next month. This year every Prom is broadcast live on Radio 3, and you can listen via the website for up to 30 days. BBC Two and Four broadcast a variety of Proms concerts while Proms Extra on BBC Two showcases performances with interviews and backstage action. Meanwhile our headphonewearing readers will be keen to learn that the BBC experimented with binaural recordings during the 2017 Proms and is headlining its binaural mixes for this 2018 season. Among the many and varied presentations on offer is Anna Meredith’s composition inspired by the basic ‘multiple

choice’ communication available to the soldiers in the trenches of The Great War – ‘I am quite well; I have been admitted into hospital; I have received no letter from you, etc’. Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and conductor Sakari Oramo, the live broadcast of Meredith’s Five Telegrams was

‘The BBC’s binaural mixes provide a new take on the Proms’

VINYL: Squeeze’s Cool For Cats – derided and censored – is this month’s Vinyl Icon (p78), while Steve Sutherland questions why Nico hated her debut solo LP Chelsea Girl, now re-released (p76) RIGHT: Hi-Fi News & RR is the UK’s representative of EISA’s Hi-Fi Expert Group. Editor Paul Miller took over as EISA’s President in June 2016

accompanied to spectacular effect – inside and outside the Albert Hall – by a laser light show choreographed by 59 Productions. See and project/Ƃve-telegrams. The sound-to-light was arguably distracting but the binaural feed (at 320kbps) is well worth closing your eyes for! PAUL MILLER EDITOR


BARRY FOX Investigative journalist supreme, Barry is the Ƃrst with news of the latest developments in hi-Ƃ and music technologies

JOHN BAMFORD JB brings huge industry experience, a penchant for massive speakers and a love of hi-res audio in all its diverse guises

KEN KESSLER is a long-serving contributor, luxury goods writer and champion for the renaissance in valves and ‘vintage hi-Ƃ’

KEITH HOWARD has written about hi-Ƃ for 40 years, and edited Hi-Fi Answers for nine. KH performs our speaker and headphone lab tests

STEVE HARRIS Former Editor of this very title from 1986 through to 2005. A lifetime in audio and a love of jazz makes Steve a goldmine

ANDREW EVERARD has reviewed hi-Ƃ for over 30 years and is still effortlessly enthusiastic about new technology, kit and discovering new music

STEVE SUTHERLAND worked on Melody Maker and then edited NME from 1992-2000, the Britpop years. Steve brings a unique slant to our Vinyl Release pages

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 15

NEWS We reveal the latest products and upcoming events

Heavyweight Hegel NORWAY LAUNCHES THE ‘MASTER AND COMMANDER’ OF INTEGRATED AMPLIFIERS Norwegian audio electronics specialist Hegel reaches for the Patrick O’Brian lexicon in describing its ‘ultimate’ H590 dual-mono integrated ampliƂer as ‘a master at musicality’ and ‘the commander of any set of loudspeakers’. Chunky at 430x171x445mm (whd) and weighing a substantial 22kg, the H590 is rated – unusually precisely – at 301W/8ohm.

Power output into 4ohm loads isn’t quoted but the minimum load impedance is speciƂed as 2ohm – the output stages featuring a dozen ultra-fast high power output transistors per channel. Two balanced (XLR) and three unbalanced (RCA) analogue inputs are offered and use hand-matched transistor pairs to ensure low distortion. Digital input is available

Heads of power

Raidho X-5 & XT-5

HYDRA DENALI 6000/T POWER CONDITIONER We’re familiar with conditioners that insert Ƃlters into the mains supply to remove interference, and with regenerators that create from scratch a dedicated mains supply for your audio equipment. But Shunyata Research Inc’s £5950 Hydra Denali 6000/T power conditioner takes a radically different design path which involves the use of lead zirconate titanate – a piezoelectric and ferroelectric ceramic – to dissipate mains-borne interference, obviating the detrimental effect on supply impedance of conventional in-line Ƃlters when used with power ampliƂers. Its tower form factor allows the 6000/T to be conveniently placed alongside an equipment rack. Shunyata Research, Washington (Seattle), USA, 0330 223 3769;

16 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

via coaxial S/PDIF (BNC and RCA options), optical (three inputs), USB and Ethernet. Via the USB link, DSD is supported as well as PCM and, as the H590 is softwareupgradable, ongoing enhancements to its functionality are promised. The UK price is estimated at £9000. Hegel Music System AS, Oslo, Norway, +47 22 605660;


AUDIOQUEST ROCKET AudioQuest has introduced two new speaker cables in its keenly priced Rocket Series. The Rocket 11 and 22 provide ready compatibility with either single-wire or bi-wire connections through the use of twisted conductor pairs in each half of the cable. Both feature LongGrain Copper, said to contain fewer internal grain junctions than standard OFHC copper, while the 22 version also boasts ‘Perfect-Surface Copper’ whose smoother surface Ƃnish is claimed to eliminate harshness and improve clarity.

PIONEER/ONKYO SOLD Austrian distribution and marketing company Aqipa GmbH has agreed to buy the assets of Pioneer & Onkyo Europe for a sum of around €140m. When the agreement takes effect from 1st October this year, Aqipa will assume responsibility for the brands Pioneer, Onkyo, Integra, Teac and Esoteric in Europe.;

Danish speaker brand Raidho has introduced two new upmarket ƃoorstanders, the £25,000 X-5 and £34,000 XT-5. Both use six of Raidho’s Ceramix bass and midrange drivers along with its isodynamic tweeter, the XT-5 featuring cones coated with a mix of titanium and titanium nitride particles. This process further stiffens the ceramic/ aluminium sandwich of the normal Ceramix cone, itself created using a proprietary anodising process. The aim, says Raidho, has been ‘to approach or even match the performance of our D-Series diamond drivers – but at a far more affordable price’. The standard Ƃnish for both models is piano black, with birdseye maple burl veneer a £5000 option. Raidho Acoustics (Dantax Radio A/S), Denmark, 05602 054669;;

We reveal the latest products and upcoming events NEWS

Klipsch ‘Happiness is...’ NEW RF-7III REFERENCE LINE FLOORSTANDER Unveiled earlier this year, the Klipsch RF-7 III ƃoorstander is now going on sale in the UK – and £3750 a pair buys you a lot of loudspeaker. Weighing just over 44kg each, the RF-7 III measures 1250x350x450mm (hwd) and has three drive units: two 10in Cerametallic midwoofers with copper-coloured anodised aluminium cones, and a horn-loaded tweeter using a 1.75in titanium dome compression driver. Crossover

is at 1.3kHz, two pairs of input terminals permitting bi-wiring or bi-amping if desired. Both the tweeter and twin rectangular reƃex ports on the back panel use the tractrix horn ƃare Ƃrst advocated by Paul Voigt. Sensitivity is said to be a whopping 100dB SPL for 2.83V, despite ‘8 ohms compatible’ impedance. Review next month! Klipsch Group, Inc., 01235 511 166;;


Krell has revisited its original integrated ampliƂer, the KAV-300i, to create this comprehensively revised and updated successor, the £4698 K-300i. With styling that closely matches Krell’s existing Vanguard and Vanguard Digital integrateds, the K-300i delivers a speciƂed 150W/8ohm and 300W/4ohm [PM measured 195W/8ohm from the S-300i in HFN Feb ’09]. The output stage features Krell’s iBias technology which ‘provides the sonic beneƂts of Class A operation without the excessive heat and power consumption of traditional Class A designs’. A large power supply, with a 770VA transformer and 80,000’F of reservoir capacitance, contributes to a total weight of 18.2kg. An optional DAC stage (£1000 extra) supports USB, HDMI and S/PDIF inputs. Krell Industries LLC, Orange, CT, USA, 0208 971 3909;;


Spendor’s A-series apex

If you can’t always Ƃnd a copy of this magazine, help is at hand! Complete this form, hand it in at your local store and they’ll arrange for a copy of each issue to be reserved for you. Some stores may even be able to arrange for it to be delivered to your home. Just ask!

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FLAGSHIP A7 FLOORSTANDER TOPS OFF THE A-SERIES RANGE Spendor describes its new top A-series ƃoorstander, the £2995 A7, as ‘a major revision of the highly acclaimed Spendor A6R’ and says it provides ‘a dramatic uplift in dynamics, resolution and low frequency articulation’. Key to the improvement is a new 180mm bass-mid driver with polymer cone and revised suspension and surround materials, which is reƃex loaded within the slim (904x180x305mm, hwd) cabinet using a rear-Ƃring, linear ƃow rectangular port. Crossover to the 22mm polyamide, wide-surround dome tweeter is speciƂed at 3.7kHz. Spendor Audio Systems Ltd, 01323 843474;

Upcoming Events IMPORTANT DATES FOR YOUR HI-FI DIARY 10-12 AUG 31-05 SEPT 05-07 OCT 10-11 NOV 16-18 NOV

Hong Kong AV Show; IFA Berlin, The International Funkausstellung, Germany; Rocky Mountain Int. Audio Fest 2018, Denver, Colorado, USA; The Hi-Fi Show Live 2018, Beaumont Estate, Windsor; www.hiƂ Audio Video Show 2018, PGE Narodowy Stadium, Warsaw, Poland;

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 17

Performance beyond expectation.


Introducing three new stereo models from Rotel. For over half a century, Rotel has been manufacturing award winning hi-fi components that set new levels of audio performance within and often above its class. The tradition continues with the latest additions to the 15 Series. There are three new models – the RA-1572 integrated amplifier, RC-1572 preamplifier and RCD-1572 CD player.

Learn more at

Pictured with the P9 Signature headphones from Bowers & Wilkins, an exclusive partner of Rotel.

EVENTS Latest from the UK’s only high-end hi-fi show



Now in its sixth year, and with more new exhibits, the UK’s only high-end audio show gathers pace as the ‘who’s who’ of world-class hi-Ƃ plan their debuts


r Nagra’s HD Amps set our July cove kin’ smo e thes r hea and e on Ƃre! Com nering hot towers of power, with part at ely usiv excl , HD Preamp and DAC ... Live w Sho i Hi-F ’s this year

Vitus Audio makes a welcome return to the Hi-Fi Show Live courtesy of importers Kog Audio. The Reference series RI-101 integrated amp and RD-101 DAC/streamer) will be demo’d while designer Hans-Ole Vitus will attend in person to offer insights into his designs

Tickets On Sale Now Another Hi-Fi News exclusive and front cover star – the spectacular SL-1000R direct-drive turntable from Technics – will also be featured at the 2018 Hi-Fi Show Live, courtesy of Timestep

Exclusively lab tested in HFN Jun 18, AKG’s N5005 in-ear headphone is an engineering tour-de-force that features no fewer than Ƃve miniature drivers! Hear it alongside other innovations at the Hi-Fi Show Live’s Headphone Haven

10-11th November Advance tickets are on sale for the UK’s premier highend audio event – The Hi-Fi Show Live at the Beaumont Estate conference centre, Old Windsor on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th November 2018. Tickets cost £20 (£30 for a weekend pass) via www. or via the link on the HFN website. We are also offering a concessionary £15 day pass for subscribers of Hi-Fi News and Hi-Fi Choice (details on the subscriber insert or via the website). Please see www. hiƂ for further information.

New product launches come thick and fast at the Hi-Fi Show Live but we’re especially keen to hear ELAC’s forthcoming Vela loudspeaker series, including the FS 409.2 ƃoorstanders pictured here, demo’d by The Hi-Fi Network

We are incredibly excited to announce the Ƃrst fully integrated Kalista CD player from Métronome will be debuted at the Hi-Fi Show Live. The DreamPlay ONE features seven PSUs, two AK4497 DACs and a custom Philips CD Pro pick-up mechanism!

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 19

SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe

Hong Kong AV Expo 2018 Words & pictures: Bob Hawkins The third annual Hong Kong Audio Visual & Portable Hi-Fi Expo took place between the 8th and 10th of June at the Regal Kowloon and Royal Garden hotels. Situated in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of Kowloon, both venues offer views of the famous Victoria Harbour. The show’s aim is to bring visitors the best in affordable audio-visual technology and organiser Ken Wong of Hong Kong-based web magazine [pictured far right] was keen to draw attention to the raft of ‘not-tobe-missed’ cutting-edge components to be enjoyed. As always, personal stereo in the form of headphones and earbuds took up much of the ƃoor space. The Brits were not to be outdone, with good representation from ATC, Naim, Cambridge Audio,

KEF and B&W. Despite a tropical depression passing by, enthusiasm wasn’t damped, with visitor numbers said to be around 8500 over the three days. Tickets cost just HK$60 (around £6) and this included a free CD.

Bricasti’s new Platinum M21 DAC was shown previously at this year’s AXPONA event. Wearing the same jacket as the M12 Source Controller, the M21 offers three independent DAC technologies: 24-bit delta sigma and 20-bit ladder types plus a ‘true 1-bit DSD’. Though Oppo announced in April this year that it was to cease both AV product design and manufacturing [HFN Jul ’18], there was a constant ƃow of visitors to the company’s stand. Of interest were the cutaway versions of its HA-1 headphone amp [HFN Sep ’14] and EISA Award-winning 4Kenabled UDP-203 BD player – both prominently displayed at the front of the booth – and the wide range of headphone accessories on offer.

20 | | SEPTEMBER 2018

With 50% off the price, the Tangent EXEO AMP was one of the show’s bargains. The Class D amp, rated at 2x60W into 8ohm, was bundled with the company’s matching EXEO CDP – a multi-format CD and MP3 audio player. The speakers ƃanking the Tangent units are the Highland Audio Aingel 3201s.

SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe

Cambridge Audio continues to make inroads into the Asian market with its Edge range. Able to handle digital content up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD 256, the Edge NQ preamp/network player offers Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect, AirPlay, Bluetooth aptX HD and Internet Radio.

Steve Shade of MoFi Electronics, a regular at the show, proudly presents the company’s UltraDeck turntable. Equipped with a 10in MoFi Ultra tonearm, the deck is a USA thoroughbred. Designed by Spiral Groovefounder Allen Perkins, the turntable features an isolated AC synchronous motor and a Delrin platter. www.moƂ

As far as affordable audio goes, the Hana SL MC cartridge (made by the Excel Sound Corporation of Japan) sits at the upper range thanks to its price tag of £600. It has a nude, natural diamond Shibata stylus set in a body made from a lowresonance composite plastic and claims to offer excellent transparency.

I was impressed with this power amp/CD player/speaker combo from German manufacturer McGee. The Bluetooth-capable Legend hybrid valve amp is rated at 80W per channel while the partnering CD-M1 player houses a Sanyo DA11 CD drive unit. Meanwhile, the Box Legend speakers sport a 25mm tweeter and 100mm bass unit. www.mcgee-hiƂ.de

This slick-looking valve amp from Poland certainly hits all the right notes. The G Lab DeFi Block weighs 20kg, thanks in part to the huge power transformer housed in the centre of the base. But the icing on the top is a tube complement of E34L, E88C and 6N6P pairings. Producing just 5.5W per channel the amp may seem inefƂcient, but it’s Class A. www.glabdeƂ.com

Asian markets differ widely from the West in the quest for high-end earbuds and pictured here is the Witch Girl series from Aroma Audio of Japan. Top of the range is the 12, with a claimed 12 drivers per earbud. Sensitivity is quoted as being 122dB/mW while the 1.2m connecting cord comes in a bright silver and copper. Cost for this audio jewellery is £2000.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | | 21


SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe Cheap, yes. Nasty, no. The HYM Originals Seed all-in-one turntable is one part record player and one part wireless speaker system with a three-point suspension for the deck providing isolation from its two 25mm tweeters and 100mm woofers. The 9in arm is Ƃtted with an A-T AT3600 MM cartridge. In addition to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability the player also sports both USB3.0 and Ethernet ports. www.

A constant stream of eager audiophiles packed the KEF demo room to hear a wireless/wired mix of stereo and 5.1 surround sound demos. The company’s LS50 loudspeakers [HFN Jul ’12] have now become so successful locally that the Wi-Fi version, the LS50W [HFN Oct ’17], is also a major seller for the company. Remarkably, the LS50 costs nearly twice as much in Hong Kong as it does in the UK.

Oasis Audio demonstrated the Kid Thomas turntable from Pear Audio. It’s a striking-looking top-of-the-range deck, hand-built by the company’s Peter Mezek in Slovenia. The two-speed belt-drive design is Ƃtted with a Cornet 2 10in carbon-Ƃbre tonearm while a separate power supply is designed to provide ultra-stable AC to drive the motor.

Crystal Cable isn’t the only company to make glass speakers. This elegant-looking ƃoorstander – the Victoria Evo – is made by French company Waterfall, now 20 years in the business. Each 1010mm-tall enclosure houses a 20mm Atohm SD20 tweeter, twin 150mm LD150 woofers and a ‘user-tuneable’ 210mm UFR210 driver for ultra low frequencies. www.

Local importer Aria Audio exhibited what can only be described as an Aladdin’s cave of audio gems. Products included Amphion’s Krypton3 loudspeakers and Music Culture Technology’s MC511 preamps, 811A mono power amps and MC701 integrated amp – total price around HK$500,000 (£48,000). Less costly audio in the room was also played on a round-the-clock basis with seating hard to come by such was the enthusiastic response. www.amphion.Ƃ;

The Soulnote badge on this unit had me guessing at what turned out to be an unmarked stpVx Starling ampliƂer. A digital design aimed at both home and studio users, the amp’s VU meters monitor input or output levels via a rotary selector switch on the fascia. The Starling can be used to control multiple amps and speakers at the same time, including a powered sub.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | | 23

It’s got to be

Perfect Your music deserves quality cables

We go to great lengths (and precise tolerances) to produce our class-leading cables. From solder upwards, every component is chosen for optimum performance. At the higher end of things, we build strictly to order. Every Signature, Sarum T and ChordMusic product is tested visually, electronically and audibly, before being signed-off by our senior technicians. All this care and attention helps maintain our international reputation for realistically priced audiophile interconnects and speaker cables - featuring our unique advanced screening, Super ARAY conductor technology, Taylon® insulation and our latest ChordOhmic connectors - backed-up with over 30 years’ experience. Designed and built in England by music lovers since 1985. Enjoyed by music lovers all over the world.

“the difference will be immediately evident, such is the transparency of the interconnects and loudspeaker leads.” Chord Signature Range Hi-Fi World Dec 2015

“It’s rare that something truly different comes along in the world of loud-speaker cables – but Chord’s new Sarum T is just that.” Chord Sarum T Speaker Cable Hi-Fi World Dec 2017

Demonstration cables available from all good Chord Company retailers. Find your nearest at:

“Sarum T is a product that demands to be heard, by cables sceptics and advocates alike”

Analogue Audio Cable of the Year Chord Sarum

Chord Sarum T Range Hi-Fi+ May 2017

SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe From Taipei-based Taiwanese company Tokugawa comes the Acacia speaker in solid wood and matching Goodman integrated digital amp. Although the stands are not included, it is otherwise a complete system. The amp features Bluetooth connectivity, an ESS 9018K2M DAC and a headphone output.

Said to transform your hi-Ƃ system, the ST-200 and Crystal Horn supertweeters from Taiwanese company JohnBlue are constructed from carbon Ƃbre and duralumin and weigh 4kg and 7kg respectively. Crossover frequency is recommended at 3kHz or more while sensitivity is given as 110dB. This can be adjusted. The Swiss built Illusonic IAP8 is an eight-channel preamp/ processor/DAC and nothing if not ƃexible. Hooked up to supporting loudspeakers it enables the listener to set room calibration for 5.1, 7.1 and 3D surround sound, etc. The innovative demo had me spellbound with the almost endless options. A show-stopper!

A new special edition, the Naim for Bentley Mu-so comes in a patterned aluminium skin and sports a Bentley logo on its acrylic base. Designed jointly by Naim and the car company, the Mu-so integrates perfectly with existing Naim streaming products and is controlled by the Naim app running on Android or Apple devices.

A pair of Larson 8 loudspeakers from Sweden dominated the Oasis Audio Room and ƃanked a variety of highly desirable audio products. Designed for use against walls, the angle of the speaker’s ScanSpeak drivers helped throw a 3D soundstage across a wide listening area. Sensitivity is rated at 88dB. www.larsenhiƂ.com

Apartments in Hong Kong are mostly small so PSI Audio’s two-way A14-M portable studio monitors are ideal. Standing 24cm tall and weighing just 5.1kg they are available to order in any colour from the RAL Colour Chart. The speakers are recommended for use in rooms measuring up to 15m2.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | | 25

Special Forty. Simply innovative.

Cutting-edge acoustic technology in a classic Dynaudio design New soft-dome tweeter. New woofer. New magnet system. New anniversary speaker. Our legendary technologies, taken back to the drawing board.

Special Forty

SHOWBLOG Sights and sounds from around the globe It was good to talk with Kent J Poon, the celebrated entrepreneur, recording producer and sound engineer. He specialises in recreating headphone effects through loudspeakers, working with Swiss company Weiss. He’s seen here with a Grimm LS1be speaker, a reworking of the company’s active LS1 [HFN Mar ’11]. www.

The Silent Angel Zero Mk 5 is a new music server that was being promoted at the show by distributor SNM Audio. The 200mm2 casework weighs 4kg and houses SSD storage with 250GB, 500GB and 1000GB options available. It also has a 12V power supply plus USB 3.0, Ethernet and HDMI inputs.

The Neoplay is a speaker system that enables you to stream music from any smartphone, tablet or PC via Bluetooth 4.0 aptX. A simple plug ’n’ play device, it also offers an aux input. Behind the cloth grille – available in red, green or grey – can be found four drivers and a bass unit. The stand and a remote control handset are included in the price.

These S60 and S55 speakers are from Polk’s American Home Theatre Tower range. Both are Ƃtted with 6.5in polypropylene drivers reinforced with mica to achieve bass frequencies of 26Hz and 32Hz respectively.

While Bluetooth loudspeakers don’t exactly top my audio wish-list, I admit to Ƃnding this Davy lamp lookalike from Visor-Rom rather seductive. Called the JY-R700, it’s a weighty 750g with a built-in rechargeable 5200mA lithium battery. A dual-concentric speaker array adorns the top, above an attractive-looking Raytheon tube.

What a rare sight to see a cherished Rogers E40A integrated ampliƂer for sale at the show. Operating in Class A mode, these designs were often used to partner Spendor LS3/5As and Quad ESL-57 loudspeakers. With a complement of 15 valves, the output power is rated at an impressive 40W per side into 6ohm.

Next month HFN reports on the best headgear at CanJam Munich

SEPTEMBER 2018 | | 27

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Day the music died Out of sight, out of mind and very much at risk... Barry Fox explores the preservation of digital music Ƃles and why you should take action now RIGHT: It is recommended practice to check hard drives every six months for Ƃle integrity. The British Library validates its drives every three months using checksums to detect whether or not the Ƃles stored on them have become corrupted

BELOW: The Ƃlm director Alexandra Dean is caught on camera in New York in November 2017 as she attends the opening of her movie Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story


he recent movie Bombshell, The Hedy Lamarr Story, nearly never got made. Which would have been a pity because it tells the intriguing story of how the glamorous Ƃlm actress (legal name Hedy Kiesler Markey) and her husband, composer George Antheil, Ƃled for a US patent in 1941 on the frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum communication technology that underpins modern wireless networking, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Although a few patent historians have known about the Lamarr/ Antheil Ƃling for some time, the back story to their invention has always been a mystery. But Bombshell Director Alexandra Dean unearthed a stash of audio cassette tapes of a gold dust interview that Lamarr gave to a US journalist late in her life.

STICKY IN STORAGE When Dean tried to play the Ƃrst cassette it jammed in her player. The tape inside had ‘gone sticky’ and was shedding magnetic coating as goo. Luckily an audio engineer working on the movie knew how in the late 1980s the professional recording industry had found that even carefully stored master tapes were becoming unplayable. He also knew the trick of baking sticky tapes for around eight hours in a low heat oven to make them playable for just long enough to make a digital copy. So the Bombshell crew stopped trying to play the Lamarr tapes, and thereby destroying them, until after they had been baked. Which prompts a sobering train of thought

30 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

for all of us who have audio stashed in cupboards under the stairs, up in the attic or down in the cellar. How many of us also have working hardware to play our old recordings? Have tapes gone sticky? Have discs grown fungus or warped into saucers? Has the supposedly sealed coating on our CDs let damp in the air leak through and corrode away the reƃective layer? I’m Ƃreproof, I hear you say, because I have transferred all my music to computer hard disks. Don’t be so sure. Hard drives fail. So does solid-state memory. And even if a drive still works, how do we know whether the data stored on it is still error-free, or that the error rate is still low enough to be correctable? And that’s just us. If the tape manufacturers and the record companies got it so horribly wrong with analogue master tapes that went sticky in storage, where’s the guarantee that they will get it right with long-term storage on hard drives? How seriously are they taking the computer industry’s early

warnings that even carefully stored hard drives can suffer spontaneous ‘bit rot’ or ‘Ƃxity’ problems? Hard disks are now so physically small and store such huge amounts of data that the magnetic domains are insanely tiny. This can make them vulnerable to spontaneous polarity switching caused by chemical or mechanical changes. When I Ƃrst wrote about bit rot in these pages [HFN Jan ’18] I asked the over-arching body for the record industry, the IFPI, what it thought about the issue. Not a lot, it turned out. In fact the only comment I ever squeezed out of the IFPI was largely wafƃe from an anonymous spokesperson. ‘We recognise the signiƂcance of preserving the vast creative output of the music industry, but we also recognise that the expertise on media preservation is itself a separate area… We have not issued speciƂc guidance on data degradation issues but know there is wide awareness and plenty of expert advice available on data backup and

‘Both Teletext and Ceefax cannot now be accessed’

preservation from the consumer level, right through to specialist archival needs.’ This made me wonder who was taking the issue of bit rot and Ƃxity seriously. So I asked the British Library, which incorporates the National Sound Archive (formerly the British Institute of Recorded Sound) and holds more than six million recordings, including over a million discs and 200,000 tapes.

ENDANGERED DIGITAL Says Head of Digital Preservation, Maureen Pennock: ‘Bit rot can manifest on any storage device, from ƃoppy discs to hard drives. In the early 2000s we began developing our own purpose-built digital repository for long-term storage. We work particularly closely with the Digital Preservation Coalition and the Open Preservation Foundation, two international membership organisations that we helped to establish. ‘Recent work with the DPC included sponsorship of the Digital Preservation Handbook, which includes a section on Ƃxity checking. The Handbook is a free resource available to all, members or not.’ (See technical-solutions-and-tools/Ƃxityand-checksums.) The DPC has now drawn up a ‘Bit List’ of the World’s Endangered Digital Species, analogous to the lists of endangered wildlife. ‘Teletext and the BBC’s Ceefax are an example of digital material which is now practically extinct and cannot be accessed by any practical means,’ says Executive Director of

ABOVE: The British Library on Euston Road in London. Its Sound Archive holds more than 1m discs ABOVE RIGHT: Adam Tovell, Head of Technical Services at the British Library, pictured in the Sound Archive’s underground collection RIGHT: An engineer calibrates equipment used for the project BELOW: Technicians at work in one of the Library’s purpose-built recording studios

the DPC, Dr William Kilbride. ‘Both our libraries and archives have good collections of printed newspapers, but for the late ’70s, ’80s and 1990s there’s a gap relating to this genre of online news.’ I visited the British Library’s headquarters in King’s Cross and spoke with Head of Technical Services Adam Tovell. He leads the 20-strong team currently working on the secure storage of audio material. The key to open-ended preservation, he says, is detecting signs of corruption while there is still time to repair and replace data. This may sound obvious, but it’s easier said than done.

BIG RED FLAG The detection of corruption is by ‘checksum’, a ‘digital Ƃngerprint’ which acts as a snapshot of the bit structure of the entire Ƃle. There are several kinds of checksum but the BL has standardised on SHA-256, which constructs a 256-bit Ƃle description. Even the smallest change to the Ƃle will cause the checksum to change completely, which acts as a big red ƃag that something somewhere in the Ƃle has altered. The checksum warning ƃag does not tell us what has changed and where in the Ƃle. But this does not matter as long as several checksummed copies of the same Ƃle exist. A copy with a ‘good’ checksum can be used to replace the copy with a ‘bad’ checksum. A new checksum is then made for the new, good Ƃle. This procedure is known as ‘data scrubbing’. Just checking or validating a checksum involves accessing the Ƃle, which stresses the storage medium and can itself introduce errors. It also takes time away from processing more original

material for storage. So there is a value judgement to be made on how often Ƃles are checked. Recommended practice is to check hard drives every six months; the BL validates every three months. So is the music industry doing all this? Tony Faulkner of independent Green Room Productions says that the music industry has changed radically over recent years, away from the cartels of all-powerful music majors – much as Hollywood has moved away from the old allpowerful studio system. Says Faulkner: ‘The average record company Joe at any level of A&R management will have assumed they are automatically covered because they have some kind of physical media in a library somewhere, the originating studio will have retained something they assume, and there will be multiple copies with download systems and streaming systems coordinators. ‘Increasingly, record companies do not own the material they

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 31


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INVESTIGATION material – recordings which you cannot buy. This means that the BL has to digitally archive from a wider variety of media sources – discs, tapes, cassettes, cylinders, you name it – it has had to access it. The BL initially copied everything to Sony Betamax VCRs, with PCM-F1 analogue-to-digital converters, set at 44.1kHz/16-bit linear. Even before Betamax died (Sony stopped making Betamax hardware in 2002), the BL had been buying up Betamax decks to cannibalise for spares. The BL also had to buy up VHS machines because as Betamax died people tried using VHS for digital recording.


release, they license it in from third parties: artists, agents and managers. Consequently, the record companies might consider that they do not have any lifethreatening requirement to preserve the content safely and securely beyond the questions of internal convenience, due diligence and duty of care – principally making sure no new-release content leaks out before it was supposed to. So the responsibility in this circumstance of third-party ownership of content remains with the owner of the content licensed onward to the record company. ‘I cannot remember the last time we invoiced a major or even middlesize record company for a recording project – we nearly always invoice artists direct, their managements, their production companies or a moneybags sponsor.’ So if it’s no longer safe to assume that record companies are securely storing music or ensuring someone else is securely storing it, then who is? There has been a ‘legal deposit’ system in the UK since 1662, whereby a copy of everything published in the UK must be given to the BL for safe keeping. Since 2013 this includes digital publication. But there is no such requirement for music. Some of the record companies give some of their recordings to the BL, on a voluntary ad hoc basis, but most of what the BL stores is ‘non-published’

SURVIVAL SKILLS ‘It’s not just the machines that are disappearing, it’s the expertise,’ warns Adam Tovell, ‘it’s the skills. There are no university courses that teach this kind of legacy expertise.’ After a ƃirtation with optical discs (gold CD-Rs and DVDRs) the BL is now storing everything on hard disk, using the now standard format IASA TC04 laid down by the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives. For the digitisation of analogue audio recordings, IASA recommends a minimum digital resolution of 48kHz/24-bits, using linear pulse code modulation (LPCM) WAV Ƃle encoding, and no compression. The trend is now towards 96kHz/24-bit,

‘We have 15 years to save our sound collections’

TOP: Recording engineer Tony Faulkner of Green Room Productions. As well as recording, the company is also involved in audio restoration of both archived and damaged recordings ABOVE: A Sony PCM-F1 analogue-todigital converter, which the British Library used to copy source material to Sony Betamax VCRs LEFT: Cylinders too – just a selection of the British Library’s collection, many of which contain recordings made around the world by anthropologists as early as 1898

which is what the British Library Sound Archive uses. ‘Some people say 192kHz/24-bit would be better,’ says Tovell, ‘but the amount of storage capacity then becomes a real issue. Actually, what matters more is making sure all the equipment is correctly aligned, so we get off what was put on. When we archive original digital recordings, like F1 tapes, we use the same bit rate as the original, without processing. We copy, warts and all.’

SAVE OUR SOUNDS The Sound Archive currently has a team of around 20 technicians, each working with four transfer machines. ‘We give priority to the unpublished material,’ says Tovell. ‘We are currently storing around a terabyte a month, of music and speech, wildlife and radio drama recordings. So far we have archived several hundreds of terabytes of data on hard disks, which is around 8% of the BL’s collection. So we are only scratching the surface. ‘But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Heritage Lottery is funding storage of 110,000 physical items and 50,000 from other institutions. We are looking for more funding for our Save Our Sounds drive.’

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 33

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INVESTIGATION The SOS message is simple: ‘Global archival consensus is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save our sound collections by digitising them before they become unplayable and are effectively lost.’ (See projects/save-our-sounds.)

HARD LIFE John Watkinson, highly respected author of many text books on all things digital, throws a typically provocative thought into the mix: ‘I have to say it amuses me that people transfer data from CDs to a single hard drive, thereby going from a medium having no wear mechanism and a life measured in decades to a medium that is ephemeral in comparison.’ Adam Tovell explains the BL’s thinking on this: ‘We stopped using optical media because hard disks were becoming more affordable and the data is instantly accessible, so easier to take care of. Also the quality of CD drives is not as good now as it was. CD drives from the 1990s were much more accurate at reporting errors. If the drive makes ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ mistakes when checking C1/C2 errors it goes into interpolation, which is guesswork. We have stockpiled good old drives, especially CD writers such as the Plextor Premium 2.’ The BL uses conventional computer hard disks (currently with maximum capacity of 8TB) but in RAID arrays (Redundant Array

of Independent Disks) where the stored data is ‘striped’ or spread and duplicated across several discs, so that if one disc fails the data can be recovered from the others. The BL uses RAID 6, or doubleparity RAID, with two parity stripes on each disk which allows for two disk failures within the RAID set before any data is lost. The same RAID 6 data is stored at four different geographical locations: at the BL in Kings Cross, Wales, Yorkshire and Edinburgh. ‘That way if London goes, we still have the Ƃle safe somewhere else,’ Tovell says pragmatically. Contrary to perceived wisdom the BL has not yet seen hard evidence that there is increased risk of bit-ƃipping due to the size of a drive. Says Tovell: ‘The uncorrectable read error rate (as quoted by the manufacturers of the disks) remains the same at approximately one unrecoverable error per 1x1015 reads.’ He continues: ‘We now want to acquire music Ƃles, and the metadata that comes with them, from the “aggregators” who are supplying content to the music streaming services,’ he says. ‘We would want it with a minimum of 44.1kHz/16-bit WAV quality.’ Talking with the BL left me conƂdent that the solutions now exist to preserve digitised audio securely and indeƂnitely – but nowhere near conƂdent that the music industry is exploiting the

‘“CD drives from the ’90s were much more accurate”’

TOP: Landing page of the Save Our Sounds project. The site contains links to over 60,000 sound recordings playable online

available solutions. It has also encouraged me to start asking questions about checksums when next a hi-Ƃ company is promoting a home server. Says John Watkinson: ‘Most media don’t display the error rate and most consumers wouldn’t know what it means.’

ABOVE: Plextor Premium 2 CD writer. The British Library says it has stockpiled these drives due to their effectiveness at reporting errors


LEFT: A typical home server is the Sirius from Leema Acoustics. It features a CD ripper, an integrated USB DAC and expandable storage of 2TB. But don’t forget to back up!

And how many music-lovers with home server systems are sensibly making back-ups but not so sensibly storing them all under the same roof where they are all at the same risk from Ƃre, ƃood or burglary? Norway has recently introduced a compulsory legal deposit scheme for music and broadcasts. This is more workable in a small country with much more limited music production than the UK. But with the record industry changing so radically, maybe it’s time for the UK to introduce a similar scheme? If so, I don’t envy the Brit politician who would then have to explain the choice between funding more hospitals and paying to store music securely because the record industry isn’t doing the job.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 35

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Vivid Audio Kaya 90 If you’ve admired Vivid Audio’s design philosophy but baulked at its styling, the new Kaya range is for you Review: Keith Howard & David Price Lab: Keith Howard


udiophiles can be a conservative bunch. Me, I sometimes feel that if I ever see another wood veneered box loudspeaker I’ll attack it with a chainsaw but others of you, I know, prefer the old aesthetic, or at least a modern take on it, to curved, organic cabinet forms – especially if painted in primary colours. For a company like Vivid Audio, which appreciates and exploits the beneƂts of curved cabinets in respect of structural stiffness and clean diffraction behaviour, this is a problem. So when the ƃamboyant looking, rangetopping, banana-coloured Giya G1 Spirit featured on our January cover this year you could almost hear the collective intake of breath from audiophiles who would never countenance such an aesthetic abomination in their home. For every person who loves the novel, like me – especially when it makes eminent acoustic sense – there are others, perhaps many others, who shy away.

A MATTER OF STYLE Nobody is going to describe Vivid’s new Kaya range (kaya means ‘home’ in the Zulu language) as conventional or conservative in appearance, but the styling is a little toned down, a little less in your face than with the Giya models. More homely, indeed, if your home is not a minimalist style statement. Which will mollify potential buyers who felt with the Giyas that they were having a bad trip in a Barbara Hepworth retrospective. Top of the Kaya hierarchy is this, the £21,000-a-pair ƃoorstanding 90. It’s a six-driver/three-way design with four sidemounted woofers toward the bottom of the cabinet [see boxout, p37] and, near the top, a forward-Ƃring cone/dome midrange and, just above it, a dome tweeter. All six drivers have aluminium alloy diaphragms. Others in the Ƃve-model range are the four-driver/three-way 45 and two-driver/ two-way 25 (both ƃoorstanders, £15,000

and £8500 respectively), the two-driver/ two-way S15 standmount and three-driver/ two-way C15 centre speaker. All have curvy – but restrained-curvy – moulded composite cabinets comprising glassƂbre/ vinyl ester resin skins either side of a polymer foam core. In the 90 the cabinet is moulded as three parts – left, right and bafƃe – which allows CNC-machined composite internal partitions and bracing to be inserted before the entire enclosure is bonded together.

DESIGN LEGACY In the tradition begun by designer Laurence Dickie’s B&W Nautilus and continued and reƂned in Vivid’s products, all three frequency ranges in the 90 – bass, midrange and treble – beneƂt from the use of exponentially tapered tube absorbers that dissipate rear radiation from the drive units to suppress internal cabinet reƃection and resonance. In the 26mm D26 tweeter the absorber extends straight out behind the magnet assembly, and in the new 100mm C100SE midrange driver (which has a 50mm voice coil and radial magnet) the absorber is curved to Ƃt within the shallower enclosure. In the bass section, with its four 125mm drivers (50mm voice coils), the absorber is designed to be effective from sufƂciently above the port tuning frequency that it doesn’t interfere with the reƃex loading of the drivers but still provides effective absorption of internal resonance. To avoid a step-change in off-axis response the tweeter is recessed within a shallow waveguide which matches its directivity to that of the midrange

‘There was a collective intake of breath from audiophiles’

36 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

RIGHT: The cabinet curves remain – as do symmetrical force-cancelling bass drivers and reƃex ports – but the visual impact is less extreme than with earlier Vivids. There are three standard colour options: this one is Oyster Matte

NEWTON’S C CREDO Isaac Newton had no inkling of what a loudspeaker is, of course, but his three laws of motion – particularly the second and third – nevertheless have direct application to loudspeaker design. The second law tells us that to accelerate a heavier mass (such as a heavier loudspeaker diaphragm) we have to push it proportionately harder than a lighter mass, and the third law – ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ – says that whatever we push pushes back. As the motor of a moving coil drive unit forces its diaphragm forward, so the stator is forced equally hard backwards, an effect referred to as magnet reaction. It’s this which explains why the Kaya 90, in common with the Giya models, has a symmetrical arrangement of side-mounted woofers and ports. The motion of the cones is in opposition on either side of the cabinet, and so is the alternating ƃow of air out from and back into the reƃex ports. As a result, overall reaction force on the cabinet is cancelled. Adding a cross-brace between the driver magnets on either side seals the deal, cancelling the reaction forces at source and stiƃing vibration and resonance within the driver baskets and enclosure.

unit at crossover. The grilles covering the four bass drivers and midrange are held in place by magnets and are easily removed if desired. Standard colours are the pictured Oyster Matte, Pearl White or Piano Black. Custom automotive Ƃnishes can be speciƂed for a £2100 premium.

SMOOTH CUSTOMER In common with bigger ‘Vivids’ the Kaya 90 has a seamless sound that is tonally ‘well lit’ but also deliciously smooth and reƂned. It has a large soundstage that goes far wide and far back, without pushing the sound down your throat. It has deep extended bass, and sparkling highs – and best of all, fun to hear. Like every great, high-end loudspeaker, the Kaya 90 has its own essential nature – clean, nuanced and detailed, it proved lovely to my ears but I can imagine listeners seeking a supershowy ‘character loudspeaker’ might be less enamoured. Instead, the Kaya 90 unpacks recordings in an even-handed and joyous manner. Kicking off with some classic post-bop jazz in the shape of Art Pepper’s ‘You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To’ [Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section; Original Jazz Classics

0025218633826], and the lead saxophone was beautifully carried. Dripping with harmonic detail, it sounded breathy yet Ƃnely textured and with a natural rawness. Even with the instrument at full tilt, Vivid’s midrange driver never cried out, allowing me to enjoy the sax at its most expressive. Also, thanks to the rather ‘period’ stereo mixing, I could take in all of the drum kit on the other channel, with a lovely metallic sheen to the ride cymbal work, and a natural thwack to the snare drums. Things sounded truly tangible and atmospheric, yet never irked or grated. When it comes to bass, Vivid’s designer, Laurence Dickie, has obviously gone for evenness and extension over bluster. So the result is a very controlled and well damped bottom end that doesn’t present itself in a particularly muscular or imposing way. Goldie’s ‘Inner City Life’ [Timeless; Metalheadz 828 614-2] conƂrmed this as bass wasn’t as engulƂng as you might expect from a such a ‘big banger’. Yet, with dizzyingly fast looped hi-hats, powerful rim-shots and speeded-up snare rolls, it was impossible to stop my feet tapping with ‘Timeless’. The Kaya 90 seemed to revel in it all, skilfully conveying the interaction of machine-gun percussion and the deep bassline, overlaid by a thick swathe of gliding analogue synthesisers.

LIGHT AND LITHE This is a fast-sounding speaker, one that’s deft, ƃeet of foot and able to pick up its skirts and run – so to speak – when called upon so to do. But it doesn’t spray hardedged detail at you, for it doesn’t deliver this excitement by being tonally edgy or harsh. Those light drive units offer excellent transient response and a lithe sound that’s able to really capture the rhythmic intent of a song. I’ve rarely heard this mid-90s

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 37

LAB REPORT VIVID AUDIO KAYA 90 LEFT: As with other Vivid models the three-way/fourth-order crossover is accessed via a single pair of 4mm terminals – so no bi-wiring or bi-amping

the musical event. Individual solo instruments such as ƃutes or oboes were etched in space with obvious precision, allowing me to effortlessly pinpoint them in the auditorium.


drum and bass track sound so enjoyable. Although the Goldie album is a modest production, the Kaya 90 still managed to unearth a capacious soundstage. Indeed the way it recreates stereo images is typically something to behold. On the end of a serious power ampliƂer – a Constellation Taurus in this instance [HFN Dec ’17] – this loudspeaker owned the room. Objects appeared in the stereo mix clearly focused and correctly located. This is not atypical of Vivid loudspeakers, and it shines out when you feed the Kaya 90s a recording the quality of the opening of Mahler’s Symphony No 4 [Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer; Channel Classics CCS SA 26109]. Here they amazed with a truly ‘3D’ rendering of the orchestra, with excellent stage depth and a real sensation of being immersed in

This marvellous recording also showcased the Kaya 90’s hearthrough midband in all its glory and where everything that’s good in this loudspeaker comes together to make for memorable moments. The wiriness of the violins, the rasp of the trombones and the reedy shimmer of the ƃutes were all a joy to behold. Hearing right back to the rear walls of the hall, there was a marvellous sense of space – thanks in no small part to the excellence of this speaker’s extended and open treble performance. Throwing a recording of dramatically different quality into the mix, and The Jam’s ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ [All Mod Cons; Polydor SNAP1] showed the same strengths. It was a gripping listen, this elegant ƃoorstander delivering an extremely insightful sound that scythed through all the mush on this grungy late ’70s new wave classic. Most loudspeakers seems to have a knack of giving lead vocalist Paul Weller a cold, but there was no nasality here. At the same time, it carried the backing vocals – usually buried well behind the multi tracked guitars – with unexpected yet effortless clarity.

One of the functions of our lab reports is to check the veracity of manufacturers’ product speciƂcations. That assumes, of course, that there are speciƂcations to check – which was not so with the Kaya 90. At the time of writing (mid-July) neither the Vivid Audio website nor the Kaya Series brochure carries a single speciƂcation for the new range (despite the former saying the latter includes ‘Full speciƂcations’) – not even dimensions, which I had to approximate for the 90 using a tape measure. Pink noise sensitivity, averaged for the review pair, was 90.4dB – a good result but at the cost of punishingly low impedance. The minimum modulus of 2.4ohm suggests a 3ohm nominal speciƂcation, and impedance phase angles are high enough to drive the EPDR (equivalent peak dissipation resistance) to a very low minimum of 1.1ohm at 297Hz. So the Kaya 90 presents a signiƂcantly tougher load to its ampliƂer than the top-of-the-range Giya G1 Spirit [HFN Jan ’18]. Forward frequency responses, measured at 1m on the tweeter axis [see Graph 1, below] show an essentially ƃat trend, with the barest hint of a presence band dip. Only the peaked up extreme treble spoils the picture and increases the response errors to ±2.8dB and ±2.6dB respectively (500Hz-20kHz). Pair matching over the same range is ±1.2dB. Incidentally, you can ignore the roll-off below 500Hz which is an artefact of the measurement [dashed traces in Graph 1]. Applying diffraction correction to our nearƂeld bass measurement is difƂcult because of the curvaceous cabinet, but we estimate an extension of 39Hz (–6dB re. 200Hz). The resonance at about 6.5kHz visible in the CSD waterfall [Graph 2] was only present in one of the review pair. KH

ABOVE: Forward response is essentially very ƃat in trend, the extreme treble lift inaudible to many


dB -6


- 12


- 18 8 3.0

- 24



- 30

5.0 msec 200



Striking looking – if not to everyone’s tastes – beautifully engineered and possessed of a wonderfully open and engaging sound, it’s hard not to like the new Kaya 90. It is recognisably a Vivid loudspeaker, yet moves things on with aesthetics that blend into a wider variety of rooms. Its light, breezy character is also a breath of fresh, musical air in a high-end scene where strong tastes can dominate.

Sensitivity (SPL/1m/2.83V – Mean/IEC/Music)


Impedance modulus: minimum & maximum (20Hz–20kHz)

2.4ohm @ 264Hz 27.5ohm @ 21Hz

Impedance phase: minimum & maximum (20Hz–20kHz)

–60o @ 48Hz 48o @ 343Hz

Sound Quality: 89%

THD 100Hz/1kHz/10kHz (for 90dB SPL/1m)

0.2% / 0.2% / 0.1%

Dimensions (HWD) / Weight (each)

1210x350x520mm / 25kg









- 100

Frequency in Hz >>

ABOVE: Cabinet modes are minor and the low-level ~6.5kHz resonance only appeared in one speaker


Pair matching/Resp. error (500Hz–20kHz)

±1.2dB/ ±2.8dB/±2.6dB

LF/HF extension (–6dB ref 200Hz/10kHz)

39Hz / >40kHz/>40kHz

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 39


Headphone amplifier. Rated at 4W into 8ohm Made by: Luxman Corp., Japan Supplied by: IAG (International Audio Group), UK Telephone: 01480 447700 Web:; Price: £4000

Luxman P-750u Luxman’s update of its fully-loaded, ƃagship headphone ampliƂer has resulted in the heavyweight P-750u – is this incarnation a contender for the best of the breed? Review: Ken Kessler Lab: Paul Miller


ecades on from the likes of the EarMax, AudioValve RKV and other pioneering headphone amps, born before cans became a ‘thing’, we are now spoiled for choice. Luxman, which has been on dazzling form of late, has upgraded its no-compromise champ to produce the P-750u, and it just may be the go-to unit if you’re 1) crazy for cans, 2) use various models and 3) love added Ƃne-tuning control. At £4000, the P-750u has to compete with the best. It takes on allcomers through its mix of purism and completeness. With Oppo leaving the audio business, the gloves are off, so this will have to compete with an array of rivals from Pathos, Audeze, Chord, Sennheiser, Unison Research, Audio-Technica [the ATHA5050H is a personal fave, HFN May ’16], Fostex and a host of others – including a bargain from sister brand Quad.

ALL ANALOGUE Of course, one narrows the Ƃeld by choosing either a headphone-amp-only unit or one of the now-common models with built-in DACs. This is a personal choice, determined by need or preference rather than ultimate quality. It does not deserve to be an ‘us-versus-them’ topic as it’s down to practicalities. Standalone DACs have been with us for decades, and the sort of customer for a high-end headphone amp will probably already own a decent DAC, so Luxman will suffer no disadvantage by producing a straight-line, non-DAC unit. I’m not bothered either way, as ultimately it’s the sound via cans that matters here, regardless of the location of the DAC in the chain. Luxman, by eschewing a DAC and delivering what is essentially an analogue device, has, for all intents and purposes, produced what by any deƂnition is ‘an integrated amp minus speaker terminals’. RIGHT: Surely the busiest-looking headphone amp on the planet, the dual-mono layout has Luxman’s LECUA volume PCBs mounted atop no fewer than four ODNF ampliƂer boards

40 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

That is not hyperbole: as PM points out in his Lab Report [p43], this will outgun certain 300B-equipped single-ended triode ampliƂers feeding horns. Luxman might consider actually adding a pair of speaker terminals in the next iteration, which would enhance its ƃexibility. Having dealt with this unit’s purism, it’s the completeness of the design that will make it a guaranteed short-lister for the hard-core. While resembling the earlier P-700u, the differences inside the P-750u are evolutionary, the only visual clue being a change to the front panel outputs and one minor aesthetic detail. The P-700u accommodated two unbalanced pairs of cans with ¼in sockets and one balanced pair through two XLR sockets for separate left-and-right three-pin connection. In the P-750u, one of the ¼in sockets has been removed and replaced with a balanced output for headphones wired

with a single 4-pin XLR cable as Headphone No 2. The legacy separate left/right 3-pin sockets have been retained as Headphone No 3, No 1 being the ¼in socket. Other than those changes, the operational controls are absolutely the same.

CIRCUIT BOOST Inside, Luxman has bolstered the power supply for the pre-driver stage while its proprietary ‘Only Distortion Negative Feedback’ (ODNF) circuit has been upgraded to version 4.0 [PM discusses these inner workings in his boxout, p41]. Externally, with the old and the new being all but interchangeable, the details are the stuff geeks feed on, eg, the ’750 sits on ‘density-gradient’ cast iron legs, where the ’700 uses aluminium. The aforementioned aesthetic detail change is a mirror-Ƃnished rhodium-plated logo, making the front panel a bit more bling-y than the ’700’s.

As with the ’700, across the front are a blue on/off LED, power on/off pushbutton, the input selector for one single-ended source and two balanced. There’s a throughput selector for bypassing the unit in order to send a line source straight to an amp, and the array of headphone outputs delineated above. Next is the output button, which scrolls through the three headphone outputs, beginning with the unbalanced pair. Alongside the sockets can be found a sensitivity selector for 0dB, –6dB and –12dB, identiƂed as High, Mid and Low [see PM’s Lab Report, p43]. Lastly is the rotary volume control, but please note that its presence doesn’t mean that this can be used as a preampliƂer. The volume control does not operate on the feed to the line outputs when using the ‘through out’ bypass mode. The instructions also tell you to set the volume control fully counter-clockwise to zero when using this mode. Less clear-cut is the sensitivity selector for better matching to one’s headphones. Given that power wasn’t even an issue with the hungry Beyer DT-48s, this wasn’t

really that big a boon to set-up. Instead, I found it had other effects on the sound, so I used it by ear for quality rather than level matching. And, as ever, nothing was predictable. Some of the ultra-hungry cans sounded better on the high setting and vice-versa with the easy-to-drive models. This, like the matter of with-or-withoutDAC, has to be dealt with for what it is: an optional operational facility. I am fed up with the autocratic, nay, Draconian manner in which audiophiles are bullied, as in the You-Must-DespiseTone-Controls movement introduced by Flat Earthers in the 1970s. (Their dictionaries missed the word ‘bypass’.) So please, feel free to use the sensitivity selector according to your ears, not a spec sheet.

‘It’s like a Krell Class-A 200-watter for the head’

CANS ON One thing I did to try to level the playing Ƃeld was to Ƃt any headphones having detachable cables with either Nordost’s excellent Heimdall 2 or Blue Heaven, from a selection with assorted terminations. With some models, I was also able to try balanced vs. single-ended and twin-cable

COMPLEX MINIMALISM If the inside shot [left] looks more like what you’d expect under the bonnet of an AV receiver than a headphone ampliƂer, then a brief explanation is in order. There are really two fundamental parts to the P-750u – three if you count the substantial linear power supply with its individual points of regulation throughout the dual-mono ampliƂer layout. LECUA or ‘Luxman Electronically Controlled Ultimate Attenuator’ is the volume circuit that Luxman employs in various of its products. There are two of them here on top of the stack of three boards inside the P-750u. It’s a chip-based circuit that’s governed by the rotary control on the P-750u’s fascia and provides closely matched steps in gain to accommodate volume, the three-position ‘sensitivity’ control, and channel balance control. Under this lies Luxman’s ODNF or ‘Only Distortion Negative Feedback’ circuit, a somewhat axiomatic name for an ampliƂer comprising a three-stage input buffer/preamp that receives the error signal from a threestage Darlington output amp. Much of the perceived complexity of the P-750u is due to the fact that there are four of these ODNF ampliƂers inside – operating as balanced, ƃoating pairs to drive the XLR outputs and in parallel to drive the single-ended 6.35mm headphone output. PM

ABOVE: Three headphones can be left in situ, chosen in sequence via a push-button. Other controls include power-on, source select, bypass, sensitivity setting, balance and level

(3-pin XLR) balanced vs. single-cable (4-pin XLR) balanced. Every model was used in single-ended mode with a ¼in jack. For the sake of brevity, and as this is a review of the P-750u rather than a study of single-ended-vs-balanced, all of the observations are about the sound of the ampliƂer. As you read this, though, please note that when balanced operation was possible, the sound was audibly if not monumentally better. To put it another way, I would use balanced for personal listening whenever feasible, but wouldn’t lose sleep over it if I couldn’t. In other words, I ain’t parting with my Beyer DT-48s. Immediately apparent was an openness, a delightfully out-of-the-head soundstage on a par with what I think is the champ in this Ƃeld – the Audio-Technica. As the mix of headphones included both sealed and open-backed on-ear, over-ear and circumaural types, it was a joy to hear this consistently from model to model. I’d started with some raucous head-banging from the Eagles Of Death Metal, revelling in ‘Poor Doggie’ off Death By Sexy… [Downtown Music 82876 873492]. The track’s drum opening sounded as cavernous via cans as it does through massive speakers, and, indeed, the transparency and spread afforded by the P-750u allowed the thwacks to resonate with loads of air. Within seconds, twin fuzz-tone guitars joined from either side, some inches from my ears. Despite the onslaught of power-chords, the sensation was bracing rather than invasive. In the head, but spreading out to my shoulders, it was like being in a wall of sound. It was like entering the skull of Phil Spector. When things turned folksy on ‘Bag O’Miracles’, the spatial changes were uncanny, with off-mic calls seeming to come from behind me. In the middle, I heard whistling that sounded as real as if the performer was in the room. The

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 41



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ABOVE: No digital inputs here... the P-750u is pure ‘analogue’ with two balanced inputs (XLRs), one single-ended (RCAs) and a loop-through output (also on RCAs)

handclapping had a genuinely natural sound, utterly free of the Rice Krispies effect that usually massacres the sound of applause. Having immediately sated my need for scale, I felt secure in turning to The Mills Brothers Collection 1931-1952 [Acrobat FADCD2043] and a 74-year-old mono recording of ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’. This was perfectly placed dead centre, affording an opportunity to test the sweep of the balance control. I always wondered what need one has for a balance control with headphones, as such usage doesn’t suffer, say, the asymmetrical acoustics of a room with loudspeakers, but this will be a boon for older listeners who might be down a few dB in one ear. That said, each of the brothers’ voices could be discerned with eye-squinting, Ƃst-clenching concentration, but I preferred to the let the harmonies rule. As this track was recorded with but a lone guitar and bass, ‘Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone’, with the group backed by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (date unknown!), exploited much more of the P-750u’s skill set.

HONEYED VOCALS With woodwinds and trumpet so sweet that the net effect of backing the quartet’s honeyed vocals was the creation of a blanket of sound, even the more crisp of the headphones sounded less aggressive. The purity of the recording, and its relative calmness, made it a prime enabler for evaluating the effect of the sensitivity adjustments. Again, the best sound wasn’t always the setting anticipated, so I implore you to use whatever value you like. Wandering down Memory Lane to the time when I started in hi-Ƃ retail in Orono, Maine, I couldn’t resist listening to Jethro Tull’s ‘Teacher’ from the new 50 For 50

collection [Chrysalis/Parlophone 0190295659295]. Forty-Ƃve years on from my old Superex ST-Pro B-V headphones, probably the last time I heard the track via cans, and I’m still staggered by the effect of doubletracking Ian Anderson’s voice. That, plus the crisp percussion and rich bass, always dazzled in the shop. The P-750u dug out more detail than I recall and a more vivid presence for Anderson’s breathy noises. A vocalist from the same era, but recorded this year: Roger Daltrey’s latest, the astounding As Long As I Have You [Polydor 6751615], is virtually a new Who album in all but name thanks to the presence of Pete Townshend. It features a stunner in a cover of Stephen Stills/Manassas’ ‘How Far’. This track is truly epic, bursting with fabulous, woody, twangy guitar sounds, rich, deep bass and slamming percussion. Here the power of the Luxman P-750u delivers dynamic contrasts and attack that will have you thinking that you’ve found a circa1985 Krell Class-A 200-watter for the head. It nestles in the space occupied by hybrid headphone ampliƂers, the needle tilting toward the solid-state but free of any transistor nasties. My goodness: this unit is something special.

Equipped with its three-stage Darlington output, the P-750u is rated by Luxman as if it were one of the brand’s specialty tube amps – 2x4W/8ohm – destined to drive a pair of high sensitivity horn loudspeakers. In practice this headphone amp really could raise as big a sound as the typical 300B tube amp for it delivers an even heftier 2x7.3W/8ohm (or 2.6W into our standard 25ohm headphone load) and all at very low distortion [see Graph 1, below]. The LECUA volume circuit [see boxout, p41] ensures there’s very little variation in distortion, S/N, output or response between the three sensitivity settings with ‘Low’, ‘Mid’ and ‘High’ offering gains of +2.9dB, +8.9dB and +15.1dB, respectively (balanced in/single-ended out). Power output, for example, is 2635mW/25ohm in ‘Low’ sensitivity mode and 2665mW/25ohm in ‘High’, while the A-wtd S/N ratio is 95.3dB (re. 0dBV). Also, while the P-750u will drive the toughest headphone loads, it also enjoys sufƂciently low residual noise (–96.8dBV or 14.5’V) that the most sensitive of ’phones will remain free of hiss and hum. Furthermore, the P-750u’s output impedance remains so usefully low at ~500mohm that there will be little variation in system response with the varying load of different headphones – reaching down to –0.5dB points of 2Hz-32kHz whether loaded or unloaded. The same is true of distortion, already 10x lower than Luxman’s speciƂcation at 0.0005-0.009% from 20Hz-20kHz at 10mW/25ohm or 0dBV/47kohm [see Graph 2, below]. As further testament to the efƂcacy of the LECUA volume regime (and the dual-mono layout), channel balance is true to within 0.05dB over its top 70dB dynamic range and channel separation is >90dB re. 0dBV (20Hz-20kHz). PM

ABOVE: Continuous power output versus distortion in ‘High Sensitivity’ mode (black, into 25ohm headphone load; red, into low impedance 8ohm load)

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT This heavyweight unit, in terms of both mass and performance, is one of the Ƃnest headphone amps I’ve had the pleasure to audition. While I fancy a mere hint of extra warmth, having been spoiled by valve or hybrid units, Luxman’s coolness has its own appeal. It’s one of the most transparent amps I’ve used, regardless of type. So even if you can’t afford this, don’t buy a pair of cans till you’ve heard them through a P-750u.

Sound Quality: 85% 0








- 100

ABOVE: Distortion versus frequency from 5Hz-40kHz (black, 1V unloaded; red, 10mW into 25ohm load)

HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS Maximum output (<1% THD into 47kohm)


Maximum power output (<1% THD)

2.67W/25ohm / 7.33W/8ohm

Output Impedance (20Hz-20kHz)


A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBV)


Distortion (20Hz-20kHz, re. 10mW/0dBV)


Frequency resp. (20Hz-20kHz/100kHz)

+0.0dB to –0.21dB/–4.2dB

Stereo separation (20Hz-20kHz)


Power consumption


Dimensions (WHD) / Weight

440x92x400mm / 13.3kg

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 43


Integrated DAC/amplifier. Rated at 300W/8/4/2ohm Made by: McIntosh Labs, Binghamton, NY, USA Supplied by: Jordan Acoustics, Bournemouth Telephone: 01202 911886 Web:; Price: £12,995

McIntosh MA9000 Billed as McIntosh’s most powerful integrated amp to date, the mighty MA9000 combines transistors with transformers and a ‘blue’ aesthetic that’s truly timeless Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller


ight, let’s get the ‘and fries to go’ thing out of the way Ƃrst. If ever a product deserved the title, this is the ‘Big Mac’. Or at least ‘Big Mc’, for the McIntosh MA9000 is huge in every respect, from the sheer bulk of the thing – at least by the standards of most integrated ampliƂers – to the 45.8kg Ƃghting weight, increasing to 60.8kg packed, and the £12,995 price tag. It’s also the most powerful McIntosh integrated amp to date, sharing with its MA8000 stablemate a conservativelyrated 300W output – here, thanks to the use of ‘Autoformers’ in the output stage, consistent whether into 2, 4 or 8ohm loads [see PM’s boxout p45, and Lab Report p47]. Even from a company not known for being shy or reserved when it comes to its products, the MA9000 is something of a brute, and clearly intended as a viable alternative to a conventional high-end pre/power combination.

CHOCK-A-BLOCK The styling is either retro-cool, with the classic blue McIntosh meters prominent in the glass-fronted panel, or relentlessly in your face, from the massive ‘grab handles’ – more cosmetic than of much actual use when wrangling the thing into place – to the scattergun of switches and controls across the fascia. Meanwhile the ‘lidless’ design reveals the construction of the ampliƂer. Indeed, behind the impressive frontage this is more of a polished stainless steel chassis on which sit the various ‘building blocks’ involved. These even extend to the heatsinks which are not runof-the-mill structures but, as the company puts it, ‘McIntosh Monogrammed Heatsinks … so efƂcient at dissipating heat that they warrant bearing the McIntosh “Mc” logo’. There’s a lot of that trademarked stuff going on here, from the Sentry Monitor RIGHT: Six pairs of ON Semiconductor power transistors (per channel) are coupled to the loudspeakers via custom transformers with 8, 4 and 2ohm taps. An ESS9016S DAC [centre of green PCB] handles PCM and DSD media

44 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018 018

protection circuitry to the gold-plated Solid Cinch speaker outputs. But the most striking aspects of the ampliƂer – aside from the size, which I think I may have mentioned – are the unusual equaliser controls ranged across the front and, to the rear, the digital input section on the ‘upper deck’, above the chassis-mounted array of analogue ins and outs. The eight-band equaliser is entirely analogue in operation, and can be called into play or bypassed using one of the Ƃve rocker switches on the fascia. The digital section here is entirely modular, and designed to be swapped out at a later stage if technology – or should that be fashion? – in digital audio changes. In other words, rather than being deeply embedded in the Ƃbre of the ampliƂer, the digital inputs stand alone as a discrete

unit, and they merely feed into the main part of the MA9000. Two coaxial and two optical digital inputs are provided, along with a USB Type B ‘computer audio’ input, plus a whole load of other connections for custom installation applications. There’s also a multi-pin MCT input for use with the company’s MCT500 transport, allowing a secure connection for the transmission of SACD data, for example.

DACS ’N’ DRIVERS The digital section itself is based round an eight-channel 32-bit DAC, run in dualdifferential mode, and able to handle up to 192kHz/24-bit via the conventional digital inputs, or 384kHz/32-bit PCM (inc. DXD) and DSD256 using the USB input. As is usual, a driver will be needed for Windows computers to use the USB connection, but none is needed to connect to a Mac.

Meanwhile, the analogue department affords two sets of balanced XLR ins, six line-ins on RCAs, and separate MC and MM phono inputs with user-adjustable loading. Jumper bars allow the preamp and power amp sections to be separated if required; there’s a Ƃxed line output and a ‘home theatre’ unity gain bypass option; and a single set of speaker outputs for each channel, with 2ohm, 4ohm and 8ohm taps. Front panel switches can be used to turn on or off the amp’s speaker and preamp analogue outputs. Finally there’s a fascia headphone socket which uses McIntosh’s Headphone Crossfeed Director ‘to attempt to give a more speaker-like sound’ by allowing some bleed between left and right channels. Along with many more set-up functions – input

trims, renaming, turning off unused inputs, etc – this is adjusted using the amp’s menu system, entered by pushing the input selector control and scrolling through the available options. A full system remote control is also supplied [pictured, p47].

TUBEY IMPRESSIONS Initial impressions of the MA9000 were somewhat underwhelming, whether used with its USB input fed from PM’s in-house Melco N1ZS20/2 server [HFN Jun ’17], or with the mighty dCS Vivaldi One player/DAC [HFN Feb ’18] inserted between the two to feed the ampliƂer’s analogue inputs. Playing through the B&W 800 D3 loudspeakers [HFN Oct ’16], as usual ruthlessly revealing of what’s happening upstream of them,

‘OK, so 4ohm tap bad, 8ohm good? Not quite so simple...’

TRANSFORMER COUPLING HFN Apr ’18 featured Perreaux’s 255i, the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Most Powerful Integrated AmpliƂer’ which, on test, delivered 2x435W/8ohm and 2x630W/4ohm. While this still bests McIntosh’s 2x420W by the skin of its transistors, the MA9000 has its own claim to fame – the ‘Audio Autoformer’. While transformers are typically used to match the high output impedance of a tube circuit, and deliver useful power, to the low (8, 4ohm, etc) impedance of a loudspeaker, McIntosh is using its own multiƂlar-wound transformers here to manage the power of its solid-state amp into different speaker loads without fear of overload or overheating. Thus it can rate the MA9000 as offering a consistent 300W into 8, 4 and 2ohm loads when measured via the 8, 4 and 2ohm secondary windings of its autoformer. (There are two secondary windings – one 8ohm and another for 4ohm with a 2ohm tap.) Moreover, with the secondaries and primaries interleaved for improved frequency response and forming part of the MA9000’s feedback network, it suffers neither the high output impedance nor the distortion (at low frequencies) of the archetypal valve amp. PM

ABOVE: Classical ‘Mac’ aesthetics with an 8-band tone control, rotary input selection and volume. Unlike some meters we’ve seen of late, these are calibrated with absolute precision

the amp sounded more like a caricature of what many consider to be the ‘valve sound’, rather than an effortlessly powerful solid-state design. The overall impression was of laziness with a vague rendition of recordings known to be good, less than precise imaging, a recessed soundstage and so-so instrumental timbres, with basses and drums in particular sounding boomy, hollow and poorly deƂned.

TURNING THE TAP Playing the track ‘In The Mountains’, from the Espen Eriksen Trio’s Never Ending January [Rune Grammofon RCD 2173], I was particularly struck by the ‘drumming on plastic barrels’ effect with Andreas Bye’s usually taut percussion, while the great atmospheric Royal Festival Hall organ sound at the opening of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s ‘The Three Fates’, from the band’s eponymous debut album [Atlantic 781 519-2] was again rather anonymous and lacking in impact. This was not good, and some head-scratching ensued – I was beginning to wonder whether something somewhere in the chain had put one channel out of phase with the other, so pronounced was the effect. The solution, when it came, was somewhat unexpected: it seems that while the transformer output of the amp does a good job of maintaining equal power whichever setting you choose, care is required when selecting the best ‘tap’

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 45


ABOVE: No fewer than eight line ins (six on RCAs, two balanced on XLRs) are joined by MM/MC, plus Ƃxed (RCA) and variable (XLR) pre outs and 8, 4 and 2ohm speaker outputs. There are also four S/PDIF digital ins (two coax/optical) and a USB Type B

for the speakers in use. In set-up we’d selected the 4ohm setting for the B&W speakers, but things livened up remarkably when we switched to the 8ohm output. Suddenly the life came back into the music. The MA9000 remained on the big, rich and bold side of neutral, but a vivid energy was injected back into drums and basses, giving them timing and deƂnition. The soundstaging tightened up too, taking on focus and threedimensionality, and the ambience and characteristic growl ƃooded back into the mighty RFH organ on the Emerson, Lake & Palmer track. OK, so 4ohm tap bad, 8ohm good? Not quite – in practice it’s more a question of not making assumptions about the correct speaker output to use, whether based on nominal or minimum impedance claims, or just guesswork. Rather, the sensitivity of the interaction of the chosen output on the MA9000 with the partnering speakers suggests some experimentation is required in order to settle on the best sounding output tap. That done, I enjoyed a wide range of music through the big ampliƂer, also discovering the analogue equaliser to be very subtle in its operation, if best left bypassed for critical LEFT: The HR085 handset partners with all McIntosh separates, offering input selection, volume and mute for the MA9000 ampliƂer

listening. The amp showed itself capable of dramatic punch with the likes of the Britten ‘Sea Interludes’, from the classic Decca recording of Peter Grimes [414 5772], and extreme subtlety in Lake Street Dive’s spare reading of ‘I Want You Back’, from Fun Machine [Signature Sounds SIG2032], with excellent shaping of bass, percussion, trumpet and voice.

The MA9000’s multiƂlar-wound transformer-coupled output has been a staple of its high-power ampliƂers for decades [MC510, HFN Jun ’08 and MC601, HFN May ’11] and by offering a full 2x420W/8ohm and 2x415W/4ohm it continues its tradition of overwhelming its basic speciƂcation (300W in this instance). Under dynamic conditions this improves to 575W/8ohm, 545W/ 4ohm and 560W/2ohm via the 8, 4 and 2ohm output taps, respectively, with 935W/1ohm (30.6A) also via the 2ohm tap. Distortion is remarkably unaffected by output level or loading at typically 0.00075-0.001W over the Ƃrst 100W [see Graph 1] and with frequency from 0.0004%/20Hz to 0.0036%/20kHz. Moreover, McIntosh’s ‘Power Guard’ protection regime is remarkably effective at preventing THD from exceeding 1% no matter how hard the MA9000 is pushed, and the (inner) heatsink temperature holds to 48oC. Noise is moderately low, yielding an A-wtd S/N ratio of 88.1dB (re. 0dBW) while its freq. response reaches –0.25dB/20kHz and –3.35dB/100kHz (8ohm tap). The digital board, based on an ESS9016 Sabre DAC with a standard linear phase Ƃlter selected by McIntosh, offers a moderate 0.002-0.012% distortion (20Hz-20kHz, 0dBFs) from its Ƃxed preamp outputs (2.15V), with a minimum of 0.00090.003% at –20dBFs [see Graph 2] and with response limits of +0.3dB/20kHz, +0.6dB/45kHz and –8.3dB/90kHz with 48kHz, 96kHz and 192kHz media, respectively. The A-wtd S/N ratio is a respectable 110dB and jitter suitably suppressed at <90psec (all sample rates) but low-level resolution is effectively muted below –100dBFs [again, see Graph 2]. Top-billing here is the analogue amp and autoformer, rather than the partnering DAC stage. PM

DIGITAL DRAMA The onboard digital stage, while excellent, lacks some of the subtlety heard when using the analogue inputs – hardly surprising, with £55k of dCS’s Ƃnest supplying the tunes – but has both drama and reƂnement in its favour, especially when using the USB Type B input to play ultra-high-resolution tracks. In the absence off an offboard superDAC to feed the MA9000, it’s more than up to the job, enabling users to enjoy all that this excellent ampliƂer can deliver whether with analogue or digital sources. Yes, this huge integrated is more than a match for many a very good pre/power combination.

ABOVE: Dynamic power output versus distortion into 8ohm (black trace), 4ohm (red), 2ohm (blue) and 1ohm (green) speaker loads. Max. current is 30.6A

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT Get beyond the sensitive interaction between speakers and its range of output taps, which requires some experimentation, and the MA9000 reveals itself to be a very serious amp indeed – from effortless power delivery and control to its cunningly-concealed ƃexibility of set-up and operation. It may not be everyone’s idea of a no-compromise amp, but it has the performance to back up its considerable size and mass.

Sound Quality: 85% 0








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ABOVE: Distortion versus 24-bit digital signal level over a 120dB range at 1kHz (black) and 20kHz (blue)

HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS Continuous power (<1% THD, 8/4ohm)

420W / 415W

Dynamic power (<1% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm)

575W / 545W / 560W / 935W

Output impedance (20Hz–20kHz)

0.152–0.195ohm (150ohm, pre)

Freq. resp. (20Hz–20kHz/100kHz)

–0.28 to –0.25dB/–3.35dB

Digital jitter (S/PDIF at 48kHz/96kHz)

90psec / 65psec

A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBW/0dBFs)

88.1dB (Analogue) / 110.3dB (Dig)

Dist. (20Hz-20kHz; 0dBW/–20dBFs)


Power consumption (idle/rated o/p)

61W / 1180W (1W standby)

Dimensions (WHD) / Weight

445x240x559mm / 45.8kg

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 47


Network/CD player/DAC and amplifier Made by: Sound United, Shirakawa, Japan Supplied by: D&M Audiovisual Ltd, UK Telephone: 02890 279830 Web: Price: £1100 (each)

Marantz ND8006/PM8006 Combining what’s said to be ‘the complete digital source’ and a new ampliƂer design with a high-quality in-house phono stage, could this be the ideal do-it-all pairing? Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller


arantz is pretty unequivocal about its new ND8006 network music/CD player/DAC, describing the £1100 machine as simply ‘The Source Player’. Partner it with the matching PM8006 ampliƂer, which comes complete with a new ‘Marantz Musical Phono EQ’ stage and also sells for £1100, and it seems you have a pairing designed to cover everything from LPs to multi-DSD, with both solidly-built and neatly-Ƃnished units available in the usual Marantz choice of black or ‘silver-gold’. For a good while now the 8000 series has been one of the unsung secrets of the Marantz range. In practice, all the action has been at the entry level, with successive generations of the 6000 range [HFN Sep ’16] culminating in the current 6006 UK Special Edition CD player and ampliƂer, launched last year. Then there has always been a yawning gap before one reaches the really upmarket Marantz hardware, topped out by the 10 series SACD player/ DAC and amp [HFN Mar/Aug ’17]. That’s a pity, because the PM8005 ampliƂer, SA8005 player [HFN Oct ’14] and ND8005 network player were always very solid performers, combining much of the prowess – and indeed a lot of the style – of the ƃagship Marantz models, but at a much more affordable price. Now, with the latest ND8006/PM8006, the midrange has become an even stronger proposition.

KEEPING WITH TRADITION As is the way with Marantz, the digital and analogue functions are kept quite separate in this duo – you can see the same thing in action in the ƃagship 10 series. So all the digital heavy lifting is done by the player, leaving the ampliƂer as an all-analogue affair, as opposed to the path taken by stablemate Denon, where it’s more common to Ƃnd amps with built-in DACs. RIGHT: The PM8006 includes the same beefy ‘double-shielded’ transformer [left] and ‘block’ electrolytics [centre] seen in the PM8005 but features a new two-stage RIAA circuit, improved volume chip and passives (resistors, etc)

48 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

The ND8006 may lack SACD playback but otherwise will handle just about anything digital you choose to throw at it, having both a ‘computer audio’ USB Type B input and Type A for USB storage devices, plus both Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking for playback from NAS drives and the like, and to access streaming services. The likes of Amazon Prime Music, Deezer Premium+, Spotify Connect and Tidal are supported, subject to availability and subscriptions where required, and of course there’s also Internet radio, plus both AirPlay and Bluetooth with aptX to stream music wirelessly from portable devices. The player also has one coaxial and two optical digital inputs to handle connections from conventional sources. Under the hood, Marantz offers its own ‘Musical

Digital Filtering’ system with a tried and tested ESS9016 Sabre DAC, the player handling content at up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD256, depending on input. Downstream of the DAC the player uses its discrete Hyper-Dynamic AmpliƂer Modules (or HDAMs) rather than chip op-amps. There’s also a choice of Ƃxed or variable analogue outputs, enabling the player to be used straight into a power amp or active speakers, and the headphone output has its own ampliƂcation, again HDAM-powered. The Ƃnal appeal of the ND8006 is that, like many of the products in the Denon and Marantz stables, it has HEOS multiroom built-in, allowing it to share content with, or from, other HEOS-equipped hardware around the house. This integration has

‘Drums have punch and slam, the cymbals sting and sizzle’

become a major theme for the companies’ parent Sound United, and it opens up other intriguing possibilities [see boxout, below]. The partnering PM8006 ampliƂer is, by its nature, a pretty simple device, rated at 70W/8ohm [see PM’s Lab Report, p51] and having four line inputs, one tape loop and that MM phono input. But the last of these is rather special, using a two-stage JFET/ HDAM-equipped ‘Marantz Musical Phono EQ’ stage, which makes its debut in this amp. Volume is microprocessor-controlled, while tri-tone controls add a midband adjustment to the usual bass and treble.

MATCHED PAIR By the standards of its class, this Marantz duo is very good indeed. Sure enough, the PM8006 may lack the absolute insight and extreme treble detail of some competitors,

but then there’s none of that searing ‘Ƃngernails on blackboard’ forwardness some – present company included – Ƃnd almost unlistenable, replacing it with a much more integrated balance. And whether partnered with the ND8006, with its fresh, clean but well weighted sound, or a decent turntable, this is an ampliƂer offering a totally immersive listening experience. Here at least, the performance and the recording, not the means by which it’s being played, is held centre-stage. What’s more, the integration of the two components either via the hard-wired Marantz remote link between them and the uniƂed handset supplied with both, or using the HEOS app to drive the ND8006, makes them simple to use despite the performance on offer. Evidently, Marantz’s designers have built the player, for all its

ABOVE: ND8006 [top] uses two multifunction controls, has a slot for USB drives and a ’phone output with its own amp; PM8006 has unusual ‘tri-tone’ controls, with a source direct switch

ƃexibility, to be entirely non-threatening for someone coming to it from a conventional CD player-based audio system. It’s possible to warm up the sound of the combination using the selectable Ƃltering on the ND8006. Filter 2, said to give a more ‘analogue’ sound, does turn on the lushness but I preferred the player using its default setting. I also set its digital input lock range to as narrow as possible without drop-outs (which was pretty narrow in my system) and with the player’s headphone amp turned off, which also cleaned up the sound a bit more.


HEOS IN THE HOUSE Sound United is going full steam ahead integrating HEOS, originally launched under the Denon banner, into as many of its products as possible. As well as the HEOS speakers themselves, the system is now built into just about every AV receiver in the Denon and Marantz ranges, and is also appearing in its hi-Ƃ products, from new Denon lifestyle systems through to the likes of the Marantz ND8006. With HEOS onboard, and the HEOS app loaded onto a smartphone or tablet, it’s possible to integrate equipment into a whole-house system, playing network-stored music, Internet streaming services and more. You can choose different content to play in any room, group rooms together into zones, or run the whole house in a synchronised ‘party mode’. On a simpler level, a HEOS wireless speaker in the kitchen means you won’t miss any of the music when you nip out for a drink! And there’s another twist: with one of Amazon’s Echo devices in your home, and the HEOS Home Entertainment Skill loaded to your Alexa account, you need only say ‘Alexa, play Dark Side Of The Moon in the living room’, and the music begins through the ND8006 and PM8006. Say hello to the future!

Having cleared the air with ‘Smoke On The Water’ from Deep Purple’s Machine Head in DSD64 [from Warner Bros WPCR 14166], I hugely enjoyed the insight the Marantz duo gave into ‘Space Truckin’’. This may be a player and ampliƂer very much at home with the Ƃligree detail of a classical work or plaintive singer/songwriter stuff, but it can also boogie, thanks in no small part to its deep, fast bass. The drums have forthright punch and slam, the cymbals sting and sizzle, and that big Richie Blackmore riff snarls from the speakers. The Marantz pairing delivers the tracks with a nasty raw edge, but that’s just as it should be – the presence and sheer power here makes it sound like it was recorded last week, not the better part

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 49

Vertere Acoustics MG-1 £308.88/month

Proac K3 £433.33/month

Devialet 440 Pro £533.33/month

B&W 800 D3 £1000.00/month

Luxman L–509X £377.77/month

Wilson Audio Sabrina £844.44/month

Esoteric K 03X £488.88/month

Sonus Faber Amati £1044.44/month

Auralic Aries G2 £173.33/month

Interest Free Credit Subject to status: Examples above are for 18 months 0% with a 20% deposit Bespoke credit terms available

Part exchange and interest free credit available

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ABOVE: Network/CD player/DAC [top] has Ethernet, Bluetooth Wi-Fi, two optical, one coaxial and USB digital inputs alongside optical/coaxial digital outs and Ƃxed/ variable analogue outs (on RCAs). Amp [below] includes MM phono, four line, one tape loop, pre out/power amp in and A/B sets of 4mm speaker binding posts

of half a century ago. By contrast, almost recorded last week is Buddy Guy’s The Blues Is Alive And Well set [Silvertone 19075-81247-2; 96kHz/24-bit], one where the old boy – he’s 81 now – sounds half his age, both in his vocals and his playing. Here the Marantz player and amp do a remarkable job with the big, rich Tom Hambridge production, delivering the great wash of sound while still allowing the individual performances to be picked out. That’s especially so on ‘Cognac’, where Guy is joined by Jeff Beck (74) and almost-75-year-old Keith Richards to show just how good 230 years of guitarists can sound together! The Marantzes make it pretty clear who’s playing what to spectacular effect.

CUBAN HEELS Spinning CDs shows the ND8006’s disc-drive is no makeweight, even though it lacks the multiformat capability of the SA10’s transport which also plays multi-DSD from DVD media. Here it’s CD-only, but it does a Ƃne job across a range of classical and rock discs. However, to hear the Marantz player really shine, you need only feed it with some well-recorded hi-res content such as the Latin-tinged jazz of LEFT: System remote control governs all 8000 series components, including access to extra features

Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa on his Un Día Cualquiera set [Mack Avenue MAC1135; 96kHz/24-bit]. The all-Cuban band – the pianist’s brother Ruy Adrián is on drums and Gaston Joya on bass – is as tight as you could want, whether playing wistful tunes reminiscent of their home or charging through ‘Conga Total/El Cumbanchero’. Whatever the track, the fast, clean but perfectly weighted ‘Marantz sound’ is just the thing to track these interweaving instrumental lines. That mix of detail and deceptive smoothness also proves just the thing for classical music, allowing both realistic scale in the soundstage and that vital air in recordings made ‘as live’. Boris Giltburg’s reading of ‘Rach 3’ with the RSNO under Carlos Miguel Prieto – one of those bargain Naxos hi-res recordings [8.573630, 96kHz/24-bit] – has fabulously wide dynamic range and presence. Here Marantz’s ND8006/PM8006 pairing gives all its drama and expression full rein. For relatively affordable, and very ƃexible, components, that’s some achievement.

While the underlying performance of Marantz’s earlier PM8005, PM8004 and PM8003 ampliƂers [HFN Oct ’14 and Nov ’10] was almost identical, the latest PM8006 has clearly been ‘tweaked’. Still rated at 70W/100W into 8/4ohm, the PM8006 delivers a robust 100W/160W, increasing to 128W/235W under dynamic conditions into 8 and 4ohm. Protection limits its output to 260W/78W into 2/1ohm loads [see Graph 1, below] – about 1A more than the PM8005. However, the A-wtd S/N ratio is now reduced from 91.5dB to 85.6dB (re. 0dBW) – no bad thing subjectively – while the frequency response has been tailored to give a near-DC bass extension allied to a very slightly adjusted treble (–0.14/20kHz to –1.6dB/100kHz vs. 0.0dB/20kHz to –0.8dB/100kHz for the PM8005). Distortion falls as low as 0.0007% through bass and midrange frequencies, increasing to 0.015% at 20kHz and 0.030% at 40kHz (all re. 10W/8ohm). Marantz’s partnering ND8006 player is necessarily more evolved than the ND8005 and SA8005 [HFN Oct ’14] not least because the Crystal CS4398 DAC has been replaced by an ESS ES9016. The (2.3V) analogue output offers a slightly improved 110dB A-wtd S/N ratio and signiƂcantly lower jitter (textbook 115psec via CD and a vanishingly low 5psec via USB and network). The response (and stopband rejection) depends on your choice of digital Ƃlter: ‘Filter 1’ is a slow-roll type with minimal pre/post ringing that offers a mere 6.2dB image rejection and a roll-off of –4.1dB/20kHz (CD/48kHz Ƃles), –6.4dB/45kHz (96kHz Ƃles) and –16dB/90kHz (192kHz media) while ‘Filter 2’ has more post-event ringing with a slightly ‘ƃatter’ –0.8dB/20kHz, –3.5dB/45kHz and –12.7dB/90kHz response. PM

ABOVE: Dynamic power output versus distortion into 8ohm (black trace), 4ohm (red), 2ohm (blue) and 1ohm (green) speaker loads. Max. current is 11.4A

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT A well-matched pair, conceived to exploit all that hi-res music and streaming can offer without scaring off those moving across from an all-CD collection – and the Ƃne phono stage in the amp will even please vinyl enthusiasts. Beautifully built in Sound United’s Shirakawa factory (Japan), and designed for ease of use and high standards of music reproduction, this is a highly impressive duo, and Ƃne value for money.

Sound Quality: 84% 0








- 100

ABOVE: Distortion versus digital signal level at 1kHz (USB/Network, red; CD, black) and 20kHz (CD, blue)

HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS Continuous power (<1% THD, 8/4ohm)

100W / 160W

Dynamic power (<1% THD, 8/4/2/1ohm)

128W / 235W / 260W / 78W

Output imp. (20Hz–20kHz, Player/Amp)

100-103ohm / 0.021-0.051ohm

Freq. resp. (20Hz–20kHz/100kHz)

+0.0 to –0.14dB/–1.58dB

Digital jitter (CD / USB / S/PDIF)

115psec / 8psec / 5psec

A-wtd S/N ratio (Player/Amp)

109.9dB (0dBFs) / 85.6dB (0dBW)

Distortion (Player/Amp)


Power consumption (Player/Amp)

16W / 275W (28W idle)

Dimensions (WHD, Player/Amp)


SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 51

Floorstanding five-driver, three-way loudspeaker Made by: Marten, Mölndal, Sweden Supplied by: Nintronics Ltd, Herts Telephone: 01707 320 788 Web:; Price: £42,500


Marten Mingus Quintet Poised to offer the sound quality of its Coltrane series at lower cost, the Mingus Quintet’s tag is still very high-end Review: David Price Lab: Keith Howard


esigning an affordable loudspeaker is an exercise in making the best out of a bad lot – your budget dictates your choice of driver and cabinet, and the skill is in squeezing out a fractionally better sound than your rivals. When you get to the territory that the £42,500 Marten Mingus Quintet occupies, however, you are in a different world. Here, you’re not constrained by cost, but more by imagination, design talent and manufacturing capabilities. It’s where manufacturers diverge quite dramatically and you encounter a realm of panel and box loudspeakers hosting wildly differing transducer technologies. Marten makes some extremely expensive speakers, and paradoxically the Mingus Quintet you see here is regarded as a modestly priced model. It bridges the company’s classic Heritage and ƃagship Coltrane series, and according to company supremo, Leif Olofsson, is ‘highly inspired’ by the £350k ƃagship Coltrane Supreme 2 – with which it shares midrange and treble drivers. KH talks about these Accuton CELL drivers and Marten’s strategy in our boxout [p53].

Varying thicknesses (between 25 and 40mm) of Ƃbre laminate have been used in different parts of the cabinet to reduce resonance along with sheep’s wool by way of damping. Jorma Design internal cabling runs between the bottom rear-mounted WBT mounting posts and the crossover, and on to the drive units. Unusually, the speaker sports a rear bafƃe-mounted bass control with four settings. I found that it added a useful extra heft on the highest setting, but the effect was certainly not dramatic [see KH’s Lab Report, p55]. Still, it’s a handy feature to have, permitting Ƃne adjustments to taste. In practice the Mingus Quintet proved very room friendly, needing only around 60cm or so from a rear wall to work happily. It’s a little less friendly to ampliƂers, however, but the Constellation Taurus Stereo power ampliƂer [HFN Dec ’17] used in PM’s listening room coaxed the Quintets to generous levels.

‘It treads a fine line between delicacy and thuggery’

COMPACT HEAVYWEIGHT The 1070mm-tall cabinet is modestly-sized compared to some price rivals, and seems smaller still thanks to its tapered proƂle and slim front bafƃe – but its mammoth 60kg weight proves the Mingus Quintet is no stripling. There’s a polished stainless steel surround plate for the tweeter and midband driver and a choice of walnut veneer or highly-polished piano black Ƃnishes. A stainless steel base gives the speaker a slightly wider footprint and together with pucks and cones delivers a secure connection to the ƃoor.

52 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

ONE BIG DRIVER... Some high-end loudspeakers sound showy, with prodigious amounts of bass, a ƃoodlit midband and treble as edgy as a laser beam, but the Mingus Quintet is not one of them. Paired sympathetically, this loudspeaker is capable of offering great detail, delicacy and insight – more indeed than many panel loudspeakers – yet it has the physicality and body that only conventional big box loudspeakers can offer. In short, it treads a welljudged line between delicacy and RIGHT: The three 7in aluminium sandwich woofers, 5in ceramic midrange and 0.75in (20mm) ‘diamond’ tweeter are all ‘CELL concept’ drivers from technology partner Accuton. Speaker sits back on a chromed steel stand

CELLULAR DRIVERS An issue with any loudspeaker which uses Ƃrst-order (6dB per octave) crossovers, as the Quintet does, is whether the crossover Ƃltering can provide sufƂcient attenuation of the drive units’ out-of-band breakup resonances. This is a principal reason why steeper Ƃltering is normally preferred. To employ Ƃrst-order crossovers successfully in a three-way design you need bass and midrange drivers with unusually stiff cones which postpone breakup resonances to as high a frequency as possible above their low-pass crossovers. Marten uses CELL sandwich-coned bass units and a ceramic-coned midrange, both from Accuton, to attempt to achieve this in the Quintet – but the multiple resonances visible in the lab report’s CSD waterfall indicate that it is not entirely successful. KH

thuggery, for while it’s no big bruiser it can still move decent amounts of air. But the deƂning characteristic of the Mingus Quintet’s sound is seamlessness – everything is integrated to the extent that you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to one vast single drive unit. This works hand-in-glove with the speaker’s Ƃnesse and speed. Everything from the big double-bass sound on Al Jarreau’s cover of ‘My Favourite Things’ [Tenderness; Reprise WPCR-28174] to the delicate percussion work comes across in an eerily subtle yet complete way. The Ƃligree detail of the triangles, maracas and glockenspiel is a balm for sore ears, while the bass line sounds both lithe and tuneful. Everything, however, is melded into one great whole, being brought together in a way that makes the music sound not only effortless but organic. There’s no sense that the speaker’s different drive units are competing for the limelight, or that they’re vying with the cabinet to grab your attention. The upshot of this is that listening to the Mingus Quintet is akin to HG Wells’s Time Machine: put a piece of music on and you’re instantly transported to the date and place of the recording. It’s striking how different Annie Lennox’s rendition of ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ [Medusa; RCA 74321257172] sounded from the aforementioned Al Jarreau track – like

being whisked from one world to another. The latter is as sugary-sweet as a Walnut Whip, the former chilly and grey enough to have been recorded in an industrial cold storage unit. The Mingus Quintet has the transparency needed to signpost this dramatic contrast.

CUT TO THE CORE The Annie Lennox track is a dense, compressed, mid ’90s pop production made entirely through digital electronics, whereas the Jarreau piece is a live analogue set courtesy of virtuoso jazz musicians. Many speakers, even at this price, have a strong intrinsic character such that the contrast between the two is diminished, but here it was stark. That’s not to say ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ didn’t sound compelling – I was absolutely transƂxed by the way the Mingus Quintet scythed its way through all those layers, separating out each strand in the mix to reveal the song’s inner core. What particularly caught my attention was how Annie Lennox’s voice came so far forward here – many loudspeakers present her as if being drowned by those swathes of keyboards and crashing percussion. Cue up some classical music, and all its qualities crystallise right before your ears. There was an eerie sense of space with the opening of Mahler’s Symphony No 4 [Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer; Channel Classics CCS SA 26109]. Such was the vast, three-dimensional expanse of sound that it was like being teleported to the concert hall. The same phase coherence that gave Annie Lennox such presence was now deployed to give an uncanny sense of the orchestra relative to the hall size, and the positions of the respective instruments inside it. Because the presentation is so delicate, none of this is forced on you. Instead, it’s like a window through which you can take in all the splendour of the event.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 53


MARTEN MINGUS QUINTET LEF Substantial and highly polished LEFT: cabi cabinet includes Jorma Design internal cabl cabling and natural sheep’s wool wad wadding, but the three-way, 1st-order cros crossover does not support bi-wiring

the proceedings. In a sense though, this was to miss the point – you can’t fully appreciate the Mingus Quartet’s abilities by ‘slicing and dicing’ its abil various strengths in different parts of vari the frequency spectrum – its trick is to ssound good as a seamless whole.


Thi was allll mostt gratifying, This tif i but b t the tonal accuracy of the Mingus Quintet also impressed. Those drive units seemed able to convey a lovely string sound, dripping with harmonics, while woodwind and brass were a joy too. Bassoons were rich and fruity yet not overblown, cor anglais had a delicious purity and ƃutes were sweet and breathy. The bass had a good deal of weight, with the ability to go down low. It was also strong on body, but in the great scheme of ultrahigh-end loudspeakers, some might wish that the Mingus Quintet could shift even more air. The bass level control proved useful here – moving it to its highest position brought an additional Ƃllip that added gravity to

Ultr Vivid Scene’s ‘Lightning’ from Ultra [ [Joy 1967-1990; 4AD COCY-6324] real tapped into this. It’s a long really way from an ‘audiophile’ recording, bein dry and clinical. Rather, it’s being a all about the rhythm – snare drum and bass guitar together in a strong groo groove, overlaid by gentle electric guit strumming and a big organ guitar sou behind. Through many sound loud loudspeakers, the result can be rath bland – not least because the rather son relies on the almost mumbled song voc to give it meaning. Yet the vocals Min Mingus Quartet’s glassy clarity really lifte it, pulling the listener in. lifted T speaker’s transient speed is This hu asset. It seems to ‘light up’ a huge re a recording and Ƃll it with energy and purpose. Its dynamic excellence help here too. It can go loud with helps the best of them and compresses very little at high volumes. Yet more imp impressive is its ability to carry tiny dyn dynamic inƃections, which really a added life to this track. Overall t then, the Mingus Quartet brings life to whatever type of music y play, but do hear it with your you t system before pulling the trigger.

Our measured 81.6dB SPL sensitivity for the Mingus Quintet (for 2.83V at 1m on pink noise) came as a surprise, and not just because Marten speciƂes 87dB. Some of this low sensitivity can be explained by Marten not exploiting low impedance, with the result that the Mingus Quintet is more ampliƂer friendly than many competitors. Although the speciƂed 3.4ohm minimum (we measured 3.8ohm minimum) does not sit well with Marten’s 6ohm nominal Ƃgure, impedance phase angles are very well controlled as a result of which EPDR (equivalent peak dissipation resistance) does not dip to the 1.7ohm we often measure. Although it falls to 2.0ohm at 20Hz, the 2.8ohm we recorded at 85Hz is more relevant in practice. Measured at 1m on the axis of the diamond tweeter, although the forward frequency response trends of the review pair proved to be fairly ƃat [see Graph 1, below], they are notably uneven, resulting in response errors of ±5.5dB and ±6.3dB respectively. Over the same 300Hz-20kHz frequency range the pair matching error was also disappointing at ±4.3dB but if the largest, narrowband disparities between 6.5kHz and 8.5kHz are ignored that Ƃgure drops to a satisfactory ±1.2dB. Diffractioncorrected nearƂeld measurement showed the bass extension to be 36Hz (–6dB re. 200Hz), and the bass level switch adjusts output by about 2.4dB total at 75Hz. Given the Mingus Quintet’s costly midrange driver and tweeter, the cumulative spectral decay waterfall [Graph 2, below] suggests a disappointingly large number of resonances. Kinks in the impedance versus frequency curve suggest there are others, unresolved by the CSD, at around 130Hz, 350Hz and 450Hz. KH

ABOVE: Forward response is ƃat in trend but also very uneven, esp. between 1kHz-2kHz and 6kHz-9kHz


dB -6


- 12


- 18 8 3.0

- 24



- 30

5.0 msec

Although nowhere near the top of Marten’s range, mere mortals will regard this as an impossibly expensive high-end speaker – and expect great things. The Mingus Quintet’s sound is such that few will be disappointed – it’s a Ƃne performer by any standards, with only the lack of ultimate physical scale holding it back. Relative room-friendliness and a superlative Ƃnish are also pluses, but budget for a big ampliƂer!

Sensitivity (SPL/1m/2.83V – Mean/IEC/Music)


Impedance modulus: minimum & maximum (20Hz–20kHz)

3.8ohm @ 23Hz 12.4ohm @ 9.7kHz

Impedance phase: minimum & maximum (20Hz–20kHz)

–29o @ 15.9kHz 28o @ 996Hz

Sound Quality: 80%

THD 100Hz/1kHz/10kHz (for 90dB SPL/1m)

1.4% / 0.2% / 0.1%

Dimensions (HWD) / Weight (each)

1070x280x380mm / 60kg









- 100



10000 Frequency in Hz >>

ABOVE: Cabinet and, in particular, driver resonances are surprisingly extensive given the high-tech units


Pair matching/Resp. error (300Hz–20kHz)

±4.3dB/ ±5.6dB/±6.3dB

LF/HF extension (–6dB ref 200Hz/10kHz)

36Hz / >40kHz/>40kHz

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 55


Network-attached DAC/streamer Made by: Naim Audio Ltd, Salisbury Supplied by: Naim Audio Ltd Telephone: 01722 426600 Web: Price: £4999

Naim Audio NDX 2 The Naim ‘platform for the future’ has brought new facilities, and a new look, to its network music player range – but have the signature sonic Ƃreworks been retained? Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller


here was a certain inevitability about it. Back in October 2016, when Naim Audio launched its four ‘new Uniti’ models, based around what MD Trevor Wilson described as the company’s ‘platform for the future’, the elephant was in the room throughout the press event. Eventually it was unleashed, and the question asked: would this new technology also be applied to the ND-series of network music players? I think we all knew the answer already, as the description was given of the cost, both Ƃnancial and in development time, of the new combination of hardware and software. Yet as I recall, the response was along the lines of ‘Yes, that would be logical’, delivered with something almost approaching a knowing wink. Now, with the arrival of the ND 555, ND 5 XS 2, and the NDX 2 we have here, that plan has come to fruition. Selling for £4999, the NDX 2 sits in the middle of the new lineup, which replaces the NDS, NDX and ND 5 XS with much more capable models.

MEET THE FAMILY The entry-level ND 5 XS 2 is a simpliƂed design, shorn even of a display panel to put all the effort into ‘sound per pound’ performance – like the others, it’s best operated with the Naim app – while the ND 555 is £12,999 without the obligatory power supply, for which you should budget another £6999 for a 555 PS DR. Yes, you could use two power supplies if you wish, as you could with the outgoing NDS, and yes, this Ƃrst network player in Naim’s premium 500 Series is said to be the best source component the company has ever made, but then you might hope it to be, given that it’ll set you back £20k in ‘get started’ form. The NDX 2 is a somewhat simpler device than the ND 555 as it lacks RIGHT: Massive linear PSU would power an amp but has independent regulation for Naim’s custom streaming platform and FPGA-based Ƃlter/upsampling [top right] and PCM1792 DAC-based analogue board [centre and left]

56 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

the ƃagship model’s extensive use of suspended circuitboards, multiple Naim DR voltage regulators and shielded as well as decoupled streaming board and inputs. The PCBs in the NDX 2 are also decoupled, but not to the extent of those in the ND 555, which ƃoat on massive brass platforms, and neither does this machine use the top model’s suspended Faraday Cage design. However, unlike the ND 555, the NDX 2 is usable straight from the box, thanks to built-in power supplies fed from a substantial toroidal transformer, of a size one might expect to Ƃnd in many an ampliƂer [see inside shot, below]. There’s also a small switch mode power supply which operates only when the unit is in standby – switch on and this decouples and the main linear PSU takes over. And being a Naim, the player can be upgraded with the addition of an XPS or 555 PS DR if required, once a link plug in the rear panel is removed. Add one of these

power supplies and the internal supply is completely bypassed – indeed, the player’s mains connector must be removed before it is Ƃred up in ‘two box’ form. More on the effect of the add-on power supply later…

KICK INSIDE So what’s new here? Well the NDX 2, like all the new Naim ND-models, comes in the company’s full-width casework, with subtle variants to the styling and Ƃnish for the three tiers of the range represented by the ND 5 XS 2, NDX 2 and ND 555. But beyond that ‘best basic black with green logo’ look, almost all is new inside the NDX 2, as is clear from that large colour screen to the right, with its row of four ‘hard buttons’ ranged vertically beside it. There’s also a new remote control to set it apart from the old. Shared with the new Uniti models, it’s square, glossy, and operates over RF rather than IR, and once paired with the NDX 2, which takes all of

a few moments, it can be used without needing line of sight to the player. Under the lid, the star turn here is that new platform, which takes the capabilities of the old ND-series and brings them thoroughly up to date. Notable among the additions is the ƃexibility brought about by the inclusion of Chromecast Built-in, which opens up the player to a whole range of streaming audio possibilities at up to 192kHz/24-bit. It’s this that allows the NDX 2 to stay in tune with newlylaunched music services, as well as being able to play soundtracks from movies streamed on connected computers, tablets and smartphones. The NDX 2 is also compatible with streaming services including Tidal and Spotify, is Roon Ready, has AirPlay via its network connection, Bluetooth aptX HD wireless connectivity, and of course the familiar vTuner Internet radio capability. Network music playback is also greatly enhanced over the original ND-range, its UPnP capability now extending to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD128. Naturally, the NDX 2 also has optical and coaxial digital

inputs, plus front and rear USB Type A sockets via which it can play music stored on memory devices or portable players. Wi-Fi is provided as well as Ethernet connection, Naim saying its improved 2.4/5GHz implementation allows greater ƃexibility for the wireless streaming of higher-resolution Ƃles.

FAST REACTOR I did Ƃnd the NDX 2 more stable when streaming higher-resolution music wirelessly than previous Naim network products, but I have to say I stuck mainly to the wired connection for most of my listening – not for any reasons of sound quality, but mainly because that’s what I’m used to, and how my digital music system is set up. And from the off it was clear that while this new network player may have just gained a whole load more ƃexibility, both in services and the range of Ƃles it can play, its sound remains resolutely ‘Naim’. So it’s both fast and exciting and bold and rich, allied to a highly nuanced view of the detail within a

‘What can sound thin, takes on scale and guts with the NDX 2’

IN-HOUSE DSP Co-developed by Electronic Design Director, Steve Sells, the custom brickwall IIR Ƃlter employed in the NDX 2 is executed on a SHARC DSP and combined with a gentle 6th-order analogue Ƃlter at the output. This digital Ƃlter type suffers no pre-ringing, but does exhibit extended post-ringing [see inset Graph] and, therefore, very Ƃlter little acausal distortion – just like a pure analogue Ƃ lter. All incoming sample rates are increased to one of two elevated base rates – 768kHz (for 48k/96k/192kHz media) and 705.6kHz (for 44.1k/88.2k/176.4kHz media and DSD64 Ƃles). The Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC, used here in current output mode with discrete I-to-V conversion, may handle 768kHz/24-bit data natively but the NDX 2’s response does not stretch out to 45kHz (with 96kHz media) or 90kHz (with 192kHz media). Instead, Naim’s custom IIR Ƃlter coefƂcients cut in earlier, delivering a 60th-order roll-off at 25kHz [see Lab Report, p59]. PM

ABOVE: Large, clear colour display will also show album artwork; ‘hard buttons’ to its right control power, play/pause, input selection and favourites; slot on left is for USB memory

recording, and the presence and ambience of a performance. That means that the driving rhythms of the mixed bag that is the Graceland: Remixes version of Paul Simon’s classic album [Legacy Recordings; 44.1kHz/24-bit download] are delivered with speed and deftness, with ‘remixed’ power in the bass and real attack in the electronica making these familiar tracks all but unrecognisable. Basically, all that remains of the original is the odd snatch of vocals, but when Simon’s voice does emerge it soars with expression and character, almost despite the repetitive shenanigans going on below it. I’m still not sure that I’m that sold on this set, though it’s hard not to like Richy Ahmed’s thumping take on ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ when the NDX 2 gets to grips with its deep, heavy bassline, or the trippy ‘shotoree shotoree’ run Groove Armada take at ‘You Can Call Me Al’. What can sound thin and insubstantial through lesser systems takes on scale and guts with the NDX 2 running through a system able to show what it can do. I was using my NAC 52/NA 52PS/NAP 250 DR [HFN Dec ’15] combination into PMC OB1 lloudspeakers, and the ability of the p player to drive hard even with really llow bass, while keeping treble detail fo focused, was never in question. On to more familiar audiophile fare, a and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were [in D DSD64 from EMI 522 4332] sounded b big and magniƂcent via the NDX 2, the lo long slow build of ‘Shine On You Crazy D Diamond’ tingling and shimmering through the speakers in a broad sharpfocused soundstage that was almost threedimensional in aspect. The familiar guitar line cut through the room with almost surgical electricity, the power of the rest of the instrumentation building behind it in a manner Ƃt to have you turning up the volume and trying it again.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 57

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ABOVE: Two Toslink optical and coaxial digital ins (one on BNC) are joined by USBType A and wired/wireless Ethernet for network audio. Outputs are on RCAs and a 5-pin DIN. Note the large connector to accommodate a DR-series PSU upgrade

Or in this case, turning the volume down, tinkering with the NDX 2’s connections and moving my 555 PS from the Naim NDS to power the new player, and then just jaw-dropping at the ‘more of everything’ and heightened sense of realism it brings. The bass appears better extended and yet even more tightly controlled, and the midband and treble more Ƃnely resolved while further ‘of a whole’ with the rest of the sound. Yes, yes – I’d promised myself I was going to wait until the listening was over before resorting to external power, but the ‘what if’ temptation was too hard to resist.

CLOSE QUARTERS So let’s get this out of the way right here and now, courtesy of an extended session with the 555 PS’d NDX 2. OK, a ‘wife’s away, house next door awaiting new tenants’ allnighter (I love it when a plan comes together!): the NDX 2, when used in this two-box form, sounds nothing short of magniƂcent, bringing the listener closer to the music than almost any other network player I know. And it does so by combining oodles of information, superb insight into recording and performance, and an entirely ‘unswitchoffable’ addictive quality that really did have me endlessly doing the ‘wonder what this sounds like?’ thing over and over again. Note that I said ‘almost any other network player I know’, for I have to admit that after LEFT: Illuminated keys on Naim’s RF ‘Zigbee’ remote allow full access to its menu and features even in lowlight conditions

lengthy back-to-back comparisons, I think the ‘old’ NDS, used with a single 555 PS DR power supply may give away a shade of detail to the NDX 2/555 PS DR combination, but it has just a bit more ‘boogie factor’ to it, making music the tiniest bit more captivating. Now I freely admit this may just be to do with my sheer familiarity with the old ƃagship player, but to these ears it just sounds a little more ‘real’. That parked, back to the NDX 2 in self-powered mode, and whether with its digital inputs, streaming music from network storage or playing tracks stored on USB sticks, there’s no doubt that the new Naim network player offers remarkable insight into the music. This is clear with the Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer recording of Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream [Channel Classics CCS SA 37418; DSD128]. The sheer weight and attack of the orchestra in the more exuberant passages is combined with the Ƃne detail available in quieter moments, and the sense of the orchestra in a living soundstage before the listener. And when you add in its remarkable ƃexibility – and upgradability – this is clearly a very special player.

All digital inputs are processed via the same upsampling/jittersuppressing 40-bit code and pass through the same PCM1792A DAC, a regime that’s so effective there’s no signiƂcant difference in performance whether data is delivered via S/PDIF, USB-A or (wired) network connections. The Ƃxed analogue output offers a maximum 2.22V from a low 17ohm source impedance that increases to 190ohm at 20Hz. The NDX 2 offers a mere 0.00020.0055% distortion (1kHz, 0dBFs to –30dBFs) and 0.000750.0035% (20kHz, 0dBFs to –30dBFs) [see Graph 1, below] and a suitably wide 109dB A-wtd S/N ratio that enables a low-level linearity that’s true to ±0.1dB over a 100dB dynamic range (±0.5dB over a 110dB range). The response and time domain behaviour of the NDX 2’s various digital inputs is entirely determined by Naim’s custom upsampling digital Ƃlter [see boxout, p57]. This Ƃlter acts earlier than is typical, providing reduced attenuation of stopband artefacts immediately adjacent to the top-end of 48kHz music media (just –43.6dB at 26kHz re. 22kHz) and restricting the response of both 96kHz and 192kHz digital audio to a –3dB point of 27kHz. Lower 44.1kHz/48kHz sample rates feature a (subjectively insigniƂcant) –0.65dB roll-off at 20kHz while Naim’s dual-mono analogue stage layout [see far left of inside shot, p56] ensures that channel separation is >110dB from 20Hz-20kHz. Jitter suppression is excellent if not absolutely state-of-theart [see Graph 2, below] with evidence of very low-rate jitter (note broadened peak) and correlated sidebands at ±384Hz and ±768Hz (65psec with 48kHz/24-bit data) and extending to ±1152Hz, ±1536Hz, etc (105psec with 96kHz/24-bit data). PM

ABOVE: Distortion versus 48kHz/24-bit digital signal level over a 120dB dynamic range via S/PDIF/USB/ network (1kHz, black; 20kHz, blue)

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT Naim has given its ND-series players a complete update, and if the superb NDX 2 is anything to go by, the additional facilities have been achieved at no expense whatsoever to the sound, which remains thrilling, fulƂlling, and entirely musical. The newcomer may lack a little of the old ƃagship NDS’s sonic ‘Naimness’, but it has an entirely compelling presentation that’s as enjoyable as it is insightful.

Sound Quality: 85% 0








- 100

ABOVE: High resolution jitter spectrum via S/PDIF/ USB/network (48kHz, black; 96kHz, red with markers)

HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS Maximum output level / Impedance

2.22Vrms / 17-191ohm

A-wtd S/N ratio (S/PDIF / USB)

109.1dB / 109.0dB

Distortion (1kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)

0.00028% / 0.0053%

Distortion & Noise (20kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)

0.0034% / 0.0012%

Freq. resp. (20Hz-20kHz/30kHz)

+0.0 to –0.65dB/–15.9dB

Digital jitter (48kHz / 96kHz)

65psec / 105psec

Resolution @ –110dB (S/PDIF / USB)

±0.6dB / ±0.6dB

Power consumption

16W (1W standby)

Dimensions (WHD) / Weight

432x87x314mm / 10kg

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 59


Headphone preamp/USB/Network DAC Made by: iFi-Audio (Abbingdon Global Group), Merseyside Supplied by: iFi Audio Telephone: 01900 601954 Web: Price: £2500

iFi Audio Pro iDSD The most ambitious iFi digital product to date is a hugely ƃexible DAC/headphone amp with an eye on both studio and consumer markets. But is it just a bit too complex? Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller


he idea of the DAC/headphone ampliƂer is Ƃrmly established, whether for ‘on the go’ use, desktop audio or as a main system component. Less than £100 will get you started, with the likes of the AudioQuest DragonFly Black [HFN Oct ’16], Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS V2 or Cyrus SoundKey, while the ambitious might consider models such as the long-running Chord Electronics Hugo [v2, HFN Aug ’18] and costing the thick part of £2000. However, even by the standards of this highly diversiƂed market sector, the range-topping model from iFi Audio, the Pro iDSD, looks pretty punchy with its £2500 price-tag. Yes, the Pro iDSD does the basics of taking a signal from your computer and outputting it to a pair of headphones, but that’s just the start. There’s a list of settings as long as your arm, but only if you’re an especially long-armed gibbon, and even then there are add-on options if you want to take the unit further.

SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM For starters, the Pro iDSD has userselectable upsampling – all the way to DSD1024 if required – and a choice of valve or solid-state (JFET) output, the option of 6.35mm or 3.5mm headphone outputs or a balanced feed on a 2.5mm socket, adjustable output to suit a wide range of ’phones, and a range of digital Ƃltering options [see PM’s boxout, p61]. However, the Pro iDSD is rather more than just a DAC/headphone amp, having both standard RCA outputs and XLRs to make the most of its fully-balanced design, and with a choice of Ƃxed or variable output level to enable it to operate as a source component or a digital preamp, plus the option of boosting the gain on the output stage to suit, for example, use in a studio environment. It’s in such RIGHT: Packed with tech – including an XMOS USB hub and Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA [top, centre] feeding two Burr-Brown DSD1793 DACs [below], a motorised volume control [lower right] and J-FET/tube option analogue stage [right]

60 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

a situation that the ability to slave the unit to an external clock, via a multifunction BNC socket on the rear panel, may also be of most use, synchronising every digital component in a chain to a single reference point. Oh, and it’s worth noting that the Pro iDSD has no digital outputs, as these would get in the way of what the unit is all about – digital in, analogue out. Even that isn’t enough for iFi Audio’s designers, for as well as being able to operate as a conventional DAC, with asynchronous USB 3.0 Type B (rather than the more commonly seen USB 2.0 Type B), for which a cable is provided, AES3 (XLR), combined optical/coax and BNC inputs, the Pro iDSD is also a fully-functioning media player. It has a USB Type A input for memory devices, a microSD slot and – most important – network capability, either via

Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Combine it with a smartphone or tablet running the Muzo Player app, more usually associated with the DigiFunk Cobblestone wireless music player, and the Pro iDSD will play music stored on your home network – usually on a NAS unit – as well as accessing services including Spotify, Tidal (with MQA decoding built-in) and Internet radio.

STACK OF DACS If you want to stick to just using the unit as a DAC/preamp, there’s also a remote handset, albeit only for volume, while the Pro iDSD draws its power from an offboard supply, and has a loop-through socket to power a second iFi Audio unit. Using a high-powered XMOS solution for USB and FPGA-based user-selectable upsampling, the digital conversion is based

LEFT: Input and volume at either end of the fascia, plus a clear OLED, but the multiple functions of just about every control hint at the ƃexibility – and complexity – within

around a stack of four ‘Bit-Perfect’ DSD/ DXD DACs from Burr-Brown. Incidentally, all incoming data is reclocked and the digital section can handle content at up to DSD1024 and DXD/PCM 768kHz. The multifarious digital paths are joined by two analogue output stages. Unlike some DACs with a tube option, which just switch the valves into the signal path for a quick warm-up of the sound, the Pro iDSD has separate valve and solid-state stages that can be selected at will. In addition, there’s a minimal negative feedback ‘Tube+’ setting to increase the ‘valve effect’ [but see PM’s Lab Report, p63]. The valves themselves are a pair of General Electric 5670s, and the company says, ‘For some recordings and headphones/loudspeakers, Solid-State may sound “more lively”. For others, Tube and Tube+ (especially Tube+) will sound more “luxurious”. Select the one that sounds best for that particular moment, be it the recording, the mood or even the weather.’ I’ve never sat in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, but I suspect the pre-ƃight checks would be only a little

more complex than getting the Pro iDSD ready for use, so many adjustments and parameter settings does it offer. I’m all for ƃexibility of operation, provided it doesn’t impinge on performance, but it took me several attempts to get the right sound out of the desired socket when Ƃrst using it, and I was grateful for the two ‘white paper’ guides iFi Audio has on its website – one for the front panel, the other for the rear. Mind you, the instructions for network set-up using the Muzo app were nonexistent, but I got there in the end by using the Wi-Fi connection for initial set-up, then rebooting the Pro iDSD to get it into wired connection mode. As is always the case, the selection of digital Ƃlters and so on is really a matter of personal taste, so I’m not going to make any ‘you must use this’ recommendations, beyond saying that I stuck to the maximum upsampling – to DSD1024 – and the BitPerfect+ Ƃlter setting. This leaves the signal unmolested save for a little analogue HF tweak courtesy of a Ƃlter previously only used in products from iFi stablemate Abbingdon Music Research. Its effect is to put a bit more air

‘It grinds out deep basslines while revealing layers of detail’

and sparkle in the treble, which can sound just a tad dull in the standard BitPerfect mode. And after some investigation of the two output stages I found the Tube+ routing to be indistinguishable from the Tube setting, which itself added just the slightest sheen of lushness when compared to the solid-state output.

MANIC MIXES Checklist done and engines started – an indicator glows green during warm-up, then turns white in solid-state mode or orange for tube – the Pro iDSD proves itself to be a very superior DAC, with massive amounts of detail smoothly integrated with a ƃuid midband and hefty but ƃeetfooted bass. Playing The JustiƂed Ancients Of Mu Mu’s 1989 Shag Times set [KLF Communications JAMS CD3], the Pro iDSD showed how fast and hard-hitting it could be, grinding out the deep, deep basslines while revealing all of the layers and detail p y clear in the manic mixes, as was especially

FILTER FLAVOURS Not only does iFi Audio offer solid-state (J-FET) and GE5670-based tube output options but it also includes Ƃve different digital Ƃlter ‘recipes’ as part of its custom upsampling regime. ‘Bit Perfect’ and ‘Bit Perfect+’ are essentially no Ƃlter at all (NOS), the latter operating up to 96kHz only. Both are free of any pre/post ringing artefacts and thus free of time domain distortions [top inset Graph] but neither do they offer any suppression of digital aliasing products immediately outside of the audioband. These, in turn, may deliver signiƂcant intermodulation distortion within the audio range. The standard ‘Bit Perfect’ setting has a –0.9dB/10kHz to –3dB/20kHz treble roll-off with CD/48kHz media that’s addressed by the ‘+’ version courtesy of a +0.25dB treble lift at 10kHz, reducing the 20kHz droop to just –0.5dB. Both are better suited to 96kHz media Ƃles. The ‘Transient Aligned’ Ƃlter is a standard linear phase type that offers an adequate 58dB stopband rejection and exceptionally ƃat ±0.02dB response (20Hz-20kHz), albeit with some ringing. The ‘Apodising’ and ‘Minimum Phase’ types are free of pre-ringing, though the former incurs substantive post-ringing [lower inset Graph] while offering superior digital alias rejection. PM

ABOVE: Time and frequency responses of ‘Bit Perfect’ and ‘Bit Perfect+’ Ƃlters [top, red/ black] versus Apodising and Minimum Phase Ƃlters [bottom, red/black]

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 61

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ABOVE: Digital inputs are shared across a combined coax/optical socket (S/PDIF), BNC-A and B sockets, AES/EBU (on XLR), micro SDHC and wired/wireless Ethernet. A multifunction BNC input also accepts external clock sync’ing. Balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) analogue outs are Ƃxed or variable

comparing the original of ‘Whitney Joins The JAMs’ with the later, more open and punchier (but Whitneyless) KLF remix on the same album. That may be a case of throwing the rough at the smooth, though the mixes really do justify the detail a Ƃne DAC like this can deliver, but with the silky DSD256 of the eponymous live album by the Yuko Mabuchi Trio [Yarling Records YAR80161DSD] the Pro iDSD sounds simply radiant, every tiny detail laid bare whether the DAC is used as a source, a preamp or a headphone amp. Indeed, using it with headphones including the B&W P9 Signature [HFN Mar ’17], and the Oppo PM-1 [HFN Jul ’14] in balanced conƂguration, the sheer amount of detail on offer, and the way it adds to the music rather than distracting from it, was quite a revelation.

STERN TEST The recording places Mabuchi centre-stage in the room, ably backed by Del Atkins on bass and Bobby Bretton on drums, and it’s hard to think of a set with as much presence as revealed by the Pro iDSD and the Oppo PM-1 headphones. But this is reality, not hi-Ƃ hyperreality – there’s nothing artiƂcial going on here, but rather total communication with the music. Switch to the valve stage if you want, for late night listening, but stick to the solid-state version for the maximum impact as Mabuchi and her boys swagger through a medley of ‘All The Things You Are’, ‘Take The “A” Train’ and ‘Satin Doll’. In a word: glorious! Stick with DSD and the third Dire Straits album, 1980’s Making Movies [DSD64, from Vertigo UIGY-9520], and the Pro iDSD has you as soon as the band explodes out of the

‘Carousel Waltz’, that mix of impact, impetus and information revealing previously unheard detail. In fact, so grabbed was I that I immediately moved on to the band’s Love Over Gold [Vertigo UIGY-9505], also in DSD64, just to hear what iFi Audio’s Ƃnest could do with the ethereal opening of ‘Telegraph Road’ and the slam of ‘Private Investigations’. I wasn’t disappointed. Finally to a stern test of any system – if you’ll pardon the pun – in the form of the Reference Recordings Britten’s Orchestra album [RR-120], whose performance of The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra by the Kansas City Orchestra under Michael Stern could have been designed as a forensic investigation of what a piece of audio equipment is doing. From the Ƃne detail of the woodwind at the beginning of the great fugue to the way the entire band winds itself up to the crashing, triumphant climax, the Pro iDSD remained fully in control while still allowing the music off the leash. This is quite a magical little box of many tricks.

Although the Pro iDSD packs a capable headphone amp, the rated 1500mW/64ohm (and 4000mW/16ohm) cannot quite be achieved in practice because of its limited voltage output. While the balanced line outputs achieve 8.45V, the maximum single-ended headphone output is 4.2V (the Pro iDSD was tested at its maximum +18dB gain setting, at full volume and with a maximum 0dBFs digital input). Unlike most DAC/headphone amps, the output is not clipped at this full 0dBFs input/maximum analogue output (just 0.14% THD, in fact), but with the moderate ~3ohm source impedance resulting in a further 0.8dB signal loss, the power output is 578mW/25ohm (or 900mW/16ohm). This Ƃnite source impedance will also emphasise any swings in headphone response with low impedance models – otherwise the frequency response is determined by choice of digital Ƃlter [see boxout, p61]. Importantly, residual noise is very low and the A-wtd S/N extremely wide at 108dB, so hiss, hum and other noise will still be low with sensitive headphones. Distortion depends on digital level, loading and choice of solid-state or tube output [Graph 2, below]. Via the line outputs, THD falls to as low as 0.0003% at –30dBFs (20Hz-20kHz) but is closer to 0.11-0.18% at 0dBFs, merely doubling in ‘Tube’ and ‘Tube+’ modes (these are almost indistinguishable). Via the headphone out, THD increases from 0.009% to 0.09% at low bass frequencies when loaded (10mW/25ohm) and from 0.006% to 0.025% at 1kHz [black vs. red traces, Graph 1]. IƂ Audio’s digital engineering has improved signiƂcantly of late [xDSD, HFN Jul ’18] – and this is true here with jitter extremely well controlled down to <25psec with 48kHz-192kHz/24-bit data. PM

ABOVE: THD vs. digital signal level at 1kHz (black, 600ohm; red, 25ohm; 0dBFs = 578mW and –24dBFs = 1mW) mW) and 20kHz (cyan, 600ohm; blue, 25ohm)

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT In tune with its studio aspirations, this is one of those ‘need to know what you’re doing’ products. There’s no fast or easy way to get the most out of it, and some aspects of its set-up need work, but it rewards the effort with a scintillating sound, whether as a source or a preamp into a main system, or with headphones. Get past the complexities, and avoid adding any more, and you’ll not be disappointed.

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ABOVE: Distortion versus frequency at 2V via XLR line outputs (‘Solid-State’, black; ‘Tube/Tube+’, red)


8.45Vrms / 70ohm

Maximum output (headphone)

4.2V/600ohm / 578mW/25ohm

Headphone Output Imp. (20Hz-20kHz)


A-wtd S/N ratio (DAC / headphone)

114.0dB / 107.8dB

Distortion (20Hz-20kHz, DAC/headph.)

0.0086-0.028% / 0.019-0.086%

Freq. resp. (20kHz/45kHz/90kHz, DAC)

+0.0dB to –0.0dB/–0.2dB/–3.4dB

Digital jitter (48kHz / 96kHz, DAC)

20psec / 25psec

Power consumption


Dimensions (WHD) / Weight

220x63x213mm / 2kg

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 63

Circumaural noise-cancelling headphones Made by: Audeara, Brisbane, Australia/China Supplied by: Molzi Ltd, Farnham, Surrey, UK Telephone: 01252 714 756 Web:; Price: £299


Audeara A-01 First the Even H1, now the Audeara A-01 – heralds both of a new world of audio components which take account of, and adapt themselves to, your individual hearing Review & Lab: Keith Howard


here was a time when the hi-Ƃ industry blithely assumed that all its customers had ‘normal’ hearing – and if you didn’t, well, tough. Actually, we’re still in that age but pioneers are beginning to chip away at this convenient assumption and take account of the hearing loss that comes eventually to all of us who live the ‘Western’ lifestyle, and to some much sooner. That headphones should be the initial target of audio hardware personalised to your individual hearing acuity isn’t surprising – even relatively small companies can ‘do’ headphones, and the miniature, lightweight, low power consumption electronics needed to perform the necessary tasks within a headphone capsule have been available for some years.

SMART TEST The Ƃrst such product to come to our attention was the Even H1 [HFN Sep ’17] which impressed with its ambition and build quality if not quite its sound. Now it’s joined by the £300 Audeara A-01, hailing this time from Australia (Audeara is 100% Australian owned) rather than Israel/USA [see boxout, p65]. Just like the Even H1, the Audeara A-01 performs a hearing test on you to determine what corrections to apply, individually for each ear. This requires that you have a smartphone or tablet running iOS (v9.3 or later) or Android (v4.0.3 or higher) as the testing is performed using an Audeara app, downloadable free from the Apple App Store or Google Play [see inset picture, p65]. I used the latest version of the Android app, v1.0.3, which on Google Play has mixed reviews with some users complaining of Bluetooth pairing difƂculties and app freezing RIGHT: From this side the A-01 looks like a normal, passive set of headphones but on the rear of the two capsules are switches for on/ off and ANC, and volume up/down buttons

64 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER BER 2018

issues. I encountered no problems other than a press of the ‘Barely Audible’ button in the hearing test twice being interpreted as a double-tap, causing one of the test frequencies to be skipped. The Audeara app actually offers a choice of three resolutions of hearing test: Standard (eight frequencies from 100Hz to 16kHz), High Detail (16 frequencies) and Ultimate Precision (32 frequencies). At each test frequency you hear regularly repeated tonebursts to which you respond by clicking the ‘Can Hear’ button if the sound is clearly audible, ‘Can’t Hear’ if it isn’t audible, or ‘Barely Audible’ when it’s at threshold, which stores the setting and moves you on to the next test frequency. When one ear is completed, you repeat the tests for the other. It’s very straightforward, but for the aforementioned double-tap issue, and for

me gave results broadly in line with those I obtained using Etymotic’s Home Hearing Test hardware and software, bought speciƂcally for this review as a check on the Audeara app’s Ƃndings. My one serious reservation about the test – other than its extension to frequencies higher than normal audiometric testing – is that the app plots the graph of level versus frequency (in effect, the inverse of your audiogram) as you progress. This may cause some users, consciously or unconsciously, to cheat a bit, something that’s not possible in a conventional hearing test like Etymotic’s. There you only see a graph when the test is completed. Clearly intended principally for use with hand-held audio sources, the A-01 has a short 1.1m cable with a TRS mini-jack at the headset end – it plugs into the left capsule – and a TRRS mini-jack at the other. Located close to the headset end, an inline microphone allows the making of handsfree phone calls. Alternatively you are able to connect to the A-01 wirelessly (but lossily) via Bluetooth.

‘Audeara’s app offers a choice of three hearing test resolutions’

POWER STEERING Arrayed behind the wired input on the left capsule are an on/ off switch which enables or disables the internal electronics – the A-01 will work in passive mode when powered-down – volume up/ down and a multifunction button to activate Bluetooth pairing. On the right capsule can be found a micro USB charging socket and a second switch that enables or disables active noise control (ANC). The 1Ah battery takes six hours to charge fully and is claimed to offer typically 65 hours of use in ƃight mode (ANC with wired input), 45 hours in eco mode (Bluetooth plus DSP) or 35 hours in regular mode (ANC with Bluetooth

LEFT: Even before factoring the internal electronics into its price the A-01 is solidly constructed, mostly of plastic. Comfort is fair and isolation good, even without ANC

the A-01 is currently only available online from Audeara but comes with ‘a 60 day, no-hassle money back guarantee’.


and DSP). While the battery is charging the A-01 will not power up and can only be used in passive mode. Accessories provided include a hard-shell zip-up carrying case (for which the headset capsules fold ƃat), a charging cable, and ¼in jack and ƃight adapters. Comfort is OK: the soft circumaural earpads are just big enough to Ƃt typical

pinnae, but only just, and the head clamping force is moderately high to ensure an effective seal to the head. Isolation of external sounds is fair gaged. Almost even before ANC is engaged. he acoustic de esign of nothing is said about the design at it the A-01 other than that ha uses 40mm drivers with e UK mylar diaphragm. In the

WHO IS AUDEARA? ee Headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, Audeara is principally three ctor), people: co-founders James Fielding (CEO) and Chris Jeffery (director), e and CTO Alex Afƃick who is based in Shenzhen, China where the y saw A-01 is manufactured. Both medical doctors, Fielding and Jeffrey d patients with hearing issues within the public health system and determined to create a headphone that would address hearing loss se. with audiometric rigour while being inexpensive and easy to use. Afƃick oversaw realisation of the product itself: the headphone,, its ding Ƃrmware and the Audeara app [pictured]. Kickstarter crowdfunding e whe n raised money to begin market testing sales in March 2017 since when il sales es Audeara headphones have been exported to 67 countries. Retail begin this year via more than 70 private audiology clinics throughout Australia with UK distribution through Molzi Ltd and

Listening was conducted principally using the wired input, with the signal supplied by a Teac HA-501 headphone ampliƂer [HFN Apr ’14] fed analogue signals from a Chord Electronics QuteHD DAC [HFN Sep ’12]. Bluetooth connection was accomplished using Audeara’s own BT-01 wireless audio transceiver (£30, not bundled with the A-01), using the analogue input and supplied TRS mini-jack to TRS mini-jack cable and mini-jack socket to twin phono plug adaptor to connect directly to the QuteHD’s analogue outputs. The BT-01 uses the aptX ‘Low Latency’ codec to obviate lip-sync issues when the sound accompanies moving pictures, which via the BT-01’s optical S/PDIF input supports PCM Ƃles of up to 48kHz/16-bit. (Qualcomm’s highest-performing codec, aptX HD – not supported by the BT-01 – supports 48kHz/24-bit PCM but at the cost of higher latency.) In passive mode, with the onboard DSP and ampliƂer switched off, the A-01 sounds as disappointing as indicated by the corrected frequency responses in the lab report [p67]. Essentially unusable in this mode, it delivers a thickened, bassand lower-mid-heavy tonal balance utterly lacking in presence and transparency. The 192kHz/24-bit download of Sabina Sciubba and Antonio Forcione’s ‘Take Five’ from Meet M Me In London [Naim label], for inst instance instance, was deeply disappointing: tur rgid a turgid and utterly lacking the joie de vivvre, particularly pa vivre, in Sciubba’s voice, that makes ma that this vocal take on the wellkn nown Paul Desmond jazz standard known su uch an engaging performance when such w reproduced. re well Why Audeara should e engine in this frequency response engineer beyo me, unless it is intended iss beyond t represent rep to a very low bar against w which to compare the sound with corre correction applied. W When the A-01 is powered up, c DSP correction can be applied. Havi calculated the required EQ Having from your hearing test results, the a allows al app you to select between Ƃve levels of correction expressed as percentages of full correction: 0% (no correction), 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 65



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LAB REPORT AUDEARA A-01 LEFT: Capsules fold ƃat for carrying in the supplied hard shell zip-up carrying case. A soft string-pull bag is also included for storing accessories

When you’ve made your choice, pressing the ‘Apply’ button passes the Ƃlter coefƂcients to the phone. This does indeed provide stepwise selection of tonal balance, in my case from distinctly thickened at 0% (as in passive mode) up to screechily bright at 100%. Perhaps because different EQ is applied to each ear – although my right and left ear produced similar traces in the two hearing tests I ran (one ‘Standard’, the other ‘High Detail’) – it was also notable that as the sound became brighter so the stereo image became less spacious. Optimising the A-01 consequently became a matter of seeing whether any of the degrees of correction provided what I perceived as a ƃat frequency response, in concert with reasonably expansive imaging.

QUICK FIRE The bald truth is: none did. Although stepping up from 0% to 25% and then 50% went some way to counteracting the prevalence of bass and lower-mid and lack of upper-mid/lower treble at the 0% setting, I never heard sound quality to even approach, let alone match, that of the (discontinued) Sony MDRMA900 [HFN Oct ’12] I employed as reference – an open-back design that couldn’t be used where the A-01 can but which cost around the same. It is an exemplar of what conventional headphone design can achieve at this price point. Here are some quick-Ƃre examples. Frank Sinatra’s ‘It Was A Very Good Year’ [96kHz/24-bit rip from Sinatra At The Sands; Reprise 8122 73777-9] sounded best at 25%. The tonal hue was still too warm but upping the correction to 50% introduced an unpleasant

hardness. Even at 25% a signiƂcant slice of the magic – of Sinatra’s and the Count Basie Orchestra’s performance and Quincy Jones’ great arrangements – was lost in the veiled delivery. Just a quarter of Audeara’s calculated correction was also best for Doug MacLeod’s atmospherically recorded ‘Black Nights’ [176.4kHz/24-bit download of There’s A Time from Reference Recordings]. There was still way too much bass and a hole where the presence band should be, but upping the correction to 50% just made the cymbal sound intrusive. Finally, Roderick Williams singing the haunting ‘Is My Team Ploughing?’ from A Shropshire Lad [44.1kHz/16-bit rip, Naxos 8.572426] fared better. But again 25% was my favoured setting, and the stereo image remained somewhat undernourished.

The A-01 was measured in passive mode, with its internal electronics switched off. This may seem odd given the A-01’s mission to combat hearing loss but there are two good reasons not to attempt to measure it doing that. First and most obviously, the EQ it applies will vary from individual to individual, so no deƂnitive general measurement of its action is possible. Second, it is normal for hearing aids, and presumably the A-01 likewise, to apply level-dependent equalisation, with greater correction applied at low SPLs and reduced correction at high SPLs. While it would be possible to characterise this action with a series of frequency response measurements at different SPLs, that procedure is beyond our normal testing regime – although should we see more products like the Even H1 and the Audeara A-01, it’s something we will develop. You might suppose, as I did before measuring the A-01, that its DSP would gild the lily. In other words, it would make necessary adjustments, based on the hearing test, to a fundamentally well-balanced inherent frequency response. The truth is very different, as the uncorrected frequency responses of the left and right capsules make clear [see grey/red traces, Graph 1 below]. As usual, these responses are the means of ten separate response measurements per capsule, between which the headphone is removed from and re-seated on the artiƂcial ear in order to even out the variations in response which occur as a result of small positional changes. These uncorrected responses are dominated by a signiƂcant upshelving of bass output below 300Hz and a treble peak signiƂcantly higher in frequency than the usual 3kHz. The effect of these on the corrected responses [Graph 2, below] is a V-shaped response above 100Hz in which – taking the diffuseƂeld correction [green trace] – perceived output at 2.5kHz is over 22dB lower than at 125Hz. KH

ABOVE: With DSP disengaged, the A-01’s unequalised responses (L/R, grey/red; averaged 3rd-octave, black) show an excess of bass and loss of mid/presence /p

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT Equalisation tailored to your hearing acuity is a fascinating prospect. But the technology is in its infancy and the A-01 did nothing to persuade me that it is yet ready for audiophile application. Each individual’s experience will differ, though. My advice: if your hearing is OK or you have mild hearing loss, give the A-01 a miss. If you have more severe hearing loss, the 60-day guarantee makes it worth a punt.

Sound Quality: 70% 0








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ABOVE: Third-octave freq. resp. (red = Harman HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS

corrected; cyan = FF corrected; green = DF corrected)

HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS Sensitivity (SPL at 1kHz for 1Vrms input)


Impedance modulus min/max (20Hz-20kHz)

29.4ohm @ 8.2kHz 33.8ohm @ 53Hz

Capsule matching (40Hz-10kHz)


LF extension (–6dB ref. 200Hz)


Distortion 100Hz/1kHz (for 90dB SPL)

0.2% / <0.1%

Weight (inc cable and 0.25in adapter)


SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 67


Belt-driven turntable system with manual speed control Made by: Pro-Ject Audio Systems, Austria Supplied by: Henley Audio Ltd, UK Telephone: 01235 511166 Web:; Price: £325 (inc. arm and cartridge)

Pro-Ject Debut III S Audiophile The Czech company beefs up its most popular turntable range with a deck boasting a sophisticated motor system and new S-shaped tonearm. Then there’s the new logo... Review: Adam Smith Lab: Paul Miller


ecently I found myself chatting with a fellow hi-Ƃ nut about the sheer number of turntables currently available. We discussed a few of our favourites and his Ƃnal comment was: ‘Yes, a great selection; although about half of them are made by Pro-Ject!’ While we chuckled, I couldn’t help thinking he had a point. In fact, as PM discusses in our boxout [see p69], Pro-Ject truly dominates both the direct and OEM markets. Not since the late ’70s, and the bewildering array of turntables to be found in the Technics catalogue, has one manufacturer offered such a wide range of models. The latest sub-series to be augmented is the Debut Line. Not content with the Debut S/E3, Carbon DC, Carbon Esprit SB, Carbon Phono USB, RecordMaster and Carbon RecordMaster Hi-Res, Pro-Ject has now introduced the £325 Debut III S Audiophile, which is distinguished by being Ƃtted with a new S-shaped tonearm. The turntable is also further evidence of a gradual move upmarket for the entire range as it must be remembered that the Debut designs were originally Pro-Ject’s entry-level offering. Now they sit above the likes of the Elemental and Essential models.

BRAND NEW The newcomer also introduces a few other new features, the most obvious of which is a fresh company logo. This graces both the turntable’s plinth and dust cover and its arrival heralds some changes at the company, including the opening of new headquarters in Austria. These are located in Wilfersdorf, just north of Vienna, and comprise ofƂces, a shop, listening rooms and a vast new warehouse. In addition, Pro-Ject’s main turntable factory in Litovel, some 170km away in the Czech Republic, has been further modernised. The Debut III S Audiophile is based around a superbly Ƃnished gloss plinth, RIGHT: Main steel platter sits on a sub-platter that spins in a brass housing while a synchronous AC motor supplies the (belt) drive. Felt mat is standard, and note Pro-Ject’s new company logo

68 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

which is available in black or white. The sub-platter features a stainless steel bearing shaft that spins in a brass housing and is driven via a ƃat belt from the motor. The main platter sits directly atop the sub-platter, is 300mm in diameter and is pressed from steel. A felt mat is supplied though, arguably, it’s not wholly successful at damping the naturally metallic ‘sound’ of the platter – but more of this later. The motor is actually a synchronous AC type, despite motive power being delivered by a 15V DC ‘wall wart’ PSU. The PSU feeds a synthesiser inside the deck that generates a stable AC waveform for the motor. In many ways, this system combines the best of both worlds. Synchronous AC motors are generally less prone to speed wander than their basic DC cousins, but the generation of the drive signals onboard the deck removes the

inƃuence of mains disturbances. It’s a neat solution and all credit to Pro-Ject for using it on such an affordable design.

SHAPE SHIFTER If there’s a downside it’s that the motor runs at a single speed. This means that in order to change speeds the user has to manually move the belt to a different pulley step on the motor’s spindle. That said, Pro-Ject does provide a tool for this purpose, to minimise the risk of the belt being contaminated by greasy Ƃngers. The S-shaped alloy arm has an effective length of 8.6in and is a one-piece design with the end of the tube effectively ‘ƃattened out’ to form the headshell. It was easy to set up and Ƃne-tune, aided in part by the clear instructions. The adjustments available even include azimuth, as the armtube can

‘I had to remind myself that the deck cost just three figures’

be rotated about its axis in the bearing housing after loosening a screw, which is a convenient facility. The arm comes with a moving-magnet cartridge pre-Ƃtted, which is another newbie from Pro-Ject, but currently only available as part of a turntable package. Called the ‘Pick it 25A’, it has been designed for the Austrian company by Ortofon and is based on the popular OM10 model. Changes centre on the internal coils, with silver wire being used for the Pick it 25A, which Pro-Ject says: ‘Opens up the transparency of the cartridge and offers better quality and dynamics’. The deck’s output is via stereo RCAs at the rear of the plinth and Pro-Ject supplies a ‘Connect it E’ cable to get you going. This normally retails for £45 and is said to use high purity oxygen-free copper conductors. The Ƃnal new feature is to be found underneath the turntable in the form of three feet made from aluminium and TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer), which claims

better levels of insulation against vibration. The feet are adjustable for levelling the deck and also have a pleasingly chunky and purposeful appearance. More exotic feet such as these are usually found on more expensive decks, though I tend to be of the opinion that they make more sense on budget designs, since these are less likely to Ƃnd themselves sat on a proper audiophile support.

PUPPY LOVE The Debut III S Audiophile turns out to be aptly named. While many decks at this sort of price level are thoroughly enjoyable to listen to, ultimately they can sound a little rough around the edges. Not so this turntable, which offers a poise and sophistication that belies its price tag. While it has absolutely no problem bounding along like an excited puppy when the mood takes it, there is an underlying couthness here that makes it sound surprisingly grown-up and authoritative.

VINYL’S BIG BEAST Behind the numbers illustrating the growth of LP consumption there are two stories – the followers who buy vinyl as part of the paraphernalia associated with their favourite band or performer (including the speculators who deal in rare memorabilia), and the music fans who actually listen to the stuff. While the volume of turntable sales is a fraction of that achieved in vinyl’s heyday, there is still more choice Ject spanning a wider price range than ever before. This is illustrated by the Pro Pro-Ject catalogue that hits every spot from the sub-£200 Elemental to the £6500 VPO 175th anniversary turntable [HFN Jan ’18]. On a trip to witness the opening of Pro-Ject’s new Mistelbach headquarters [inset picture], the dominance of this one brand was evident. Pressed on Pro-Ject’s market share, export sales manager Günter Rathammer replied, ‘I would say that more than 40% of all turntables sold in the world over €200 are made by Pro-Ject’. Weigh in all those other decks made by Pro-Ject on an OEM basis for other brands and perhaps over half the ‘real’ turntables sold worldwide originate from this one supplier. PM

ABOVE: The plinth sports a glossy Ƃnish in black or white while the S-shaped tonearm is a made of aluminium. This carries the new ‘Pick it 25A’ cartridge, which is based on an Ortofon OM10

Bass performance was impressively weighty which, again, puts it a step ahead of its peers. There is a caveat here, however. While I initially found myself enjoying the deck’s delivery, at times I couldn’t help feeling that the low-end sounded a little fruitier than I would have liked, bass notes occasionally outstaying their welcome – even if by a shade. Having encountered this problem with other designs, I found myself pointing a Ƃnger straight at the mat and platter. With the supplied felt mat in place, the platter responded to the Ƃngernail ƃick test with a Ƃrm bell-like tone. In short, there was little difference in the platter’s ringing with or without this thin felt mat. After rummaging in my vinyl toolbox for a Pro-Ject ‘Leather it’ (leather) mat, and swapping the supplied felt item for this, the platter now responded with a dead ‘‘thunk’ when tapped with a Ƃngernail. The result was tthat bass lines now sounded m much tighter and better d deƂned and the low-end o overall gained greater solidity a and conƂdence. What’s more, u upper bass now enjoyed plenty of detai detail and tautness, ensuring nothing sounded lightweight. Jessie Ware’s ‘Your Domino’ from her Glasshouse LP [PMR/Island Records 602557947137 PMR 114] bounded along with verve and enthusiasm and the deck kept all the key bass details under Ƃrm control. Even better, the bass guitar on the title track of Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat LP [Reprise Records 9362-49975-1]

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 69

dram series fifteen







ABOVE: Stereo phono sockets are mounted beneath the far left of the plinth with the company’s ‘Connect it E’ RCA cables supplied as part of the turntable package

sounded beautifully deep while boasting bags of warmth and no blunting of perceived ‘timing’. Across the midband, the deck also did a very Ƃne job of capturing instruments and singers vividly. Budget designs can often blur the Ƃner aspects of the soundstage somewhat, but the Debut III S Audiophile separated individual singers and performers surprisingly well. Imaging was good and presented a plausible depth perspective, giving a fair sense of atmosphere to recordings. True, in absolute terms the lateral perspective of the soundstage was somewhat curtailed and central image stability could have been stronger, but at no point did I feel short-changed by the deck’s presentation. More than once I had to remind myself that this turntable carries a three-Ƃgure price tag, and well below £500 at that.

SILVER SPARKLE Special mention must be made of the new tonearm, which is also a well thought-out design. The more mechanically lively arms used on some older budget Pro-Ject decks had a tendency to impart a sense of imprecision to the treble. The effect was a blurring of top-end detail and a slight splashiness to sibilants. I detected rather less of either when listening to this ‘Audiophile’ version of the Debut deck [see PM’s Lab Report, adjacent]. ‘Uncertain Smile’ from The The’s Soul Mining album [Epic EPC 25525] highlighted this perfectly, its rather messy production values brought well into line by the Pro-Ject package. In combination with the arm, the newly developed moving-magnet Pick it 25A cartridge also appeared to be working its magic. I’m very fond of the old Ortofon OM series

but am well aware that these pickups can sound a little soft around the edges. Not so the Pick it 25A. Those silver coils bring just the right amount of sparkle to proceedings, without ever straying into harshness. As a result, violin strings were vivid but without screech, while the cymbals backing The Eagles’ ‘Outlaw Man’ on their Desperado album [Asylum Records SYL-9011] rang out strongly before shimmering delicately off into the distance. Out of curiosity, and as a way to compare the sort of cartridges previously used on Pro-Ject’s more affordable designs, I went back into my vinyl toolbox and retrieved an Ortofon OM10 cartridge. While the rich, smooth tones of the OM10 pick-up were like an old friend, with this Ƃtted to the Debut III S Audiophile, the sound became a little soporiƂc and lost its sense of keen musicality. As a result, I’d deƂnitely stick with the supplied Pick it 25A movingmagnet. Once again, Pro-Ject has shown itself to be a master when it comes to balancing its packages as this new cartridge gels with the tonearm and deck superbly.

When it comes to engineering a turntable/arm/MM vinyl-playing solution to a price, few brands can match Pro-Ject for experience. This is reƃected in the well-rounded performance of this £325 combination with its acceptable –66.7dB (through-groove) and –66.6dB (through bearing) rumble, and absolute speed that’s some +0.25% fast. The latter is inaudible but extends the deck’s ‘lifespan’ as its AC synchronous motor will inevitably slow – rather than speed up! – with age and use. Drift is minimal and so is low-rate wow at some 0.03%, but some higher-rate ƃutter sidebands, amounting to 0.07% (peak weighted), are in evidence at ±25Hz, ±50Hz and ±100Hz [see Graph 1, below]. The motor is sufƂciently ‘torquey’ that start-up time is a usefully rapid ~3secs. The partnering 8.6in alloy tonearm offers a low/medium 9g effective mass that suits the moderate compliance of the Ortofon OM10-based pick-up. The gimbal-type bearing, with sapphire points, is derived from the arm Ƃtted to the Pro-Ject Essential III [HFN Jan ’17] and offers a reassuring combination of low friction (<20mg) with minimal spurious play. The original straight alloy tube displayed a fairly ‘lively’ series of resonances and this S-shaped version is no less complex in its vibrational behaviour, albeit slightly better damped overall. The main bending mode comes in at a low 75Hz with harmonics reaching out to 175Hz, 240Hz and 315Hz and with higher-Q modes at 450Hz, 660Hz, 750Hz and 1.5kHz potentially having some subjective inƃuence over the midband [see Graph 2, below]. The latter are very similar to those recorded for the Essential III tonearm so probably relate to common features, including the bearing and/or ƃat, pressed headshell. PM

ABOVE: Wow and ƃutter re. 3150Hz tone at 5cm/sec (plotted ±150Hz, 5Hz per minor division)

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT While the scope of Pro-Ject’s Debut range is already daunting, the Debut III S Audiophile is still a welcome addition to the series. It takes the best of the existing models and adds a dash of extra sophistication and poise, the result being a convincing package that has clearly been properly thought through. The whole is already greater than the sum of Pro-Ject’s parts, but be sure to budget for a better mat.

Turntable speed error at 33.33rpm

33.42rpm (+0.25%)

Time to audible stabilisation


Hum & Noise (unwtd, rel. to 5cm/sec)


Sound Quality: 80%

Power Consumption

3W (1W standby)

Dimensions (WHD) / Weight

415x118x320mm / 5kg









- 100

ABOVE: Cumulative tonearm resonant decay spectrum, illustrating various bearing, pillar and ‘tube’ vibration modes spanning 100Hz-10kHz over 40msec


Peak Wow/Flutter

0.03% / 0.07%

Rumble (silent groove, DIN B wtd)


Rumble (through bearing, DIN B wtd)


SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 71


Leonard Bernstein Composer, conductor, pianist And more. This is his centenary year but for which of his musical talents will he be mostly remembered, asks Christopher Breunig, who looks over his big discography


hich was the greater affront to archconservative music lovers: Bernstein’s idea that he could show the BBC Symphony Orchestra the proper way to interpret Elgar’s Enigma Variations, or his all-singin’ alldancin’ 1971 Mass? ‘Completely unmusical’ was the retort of one brass player during the 1982 Watford Town Hall sessions for the Elgar, when Bernstein insisted on some small detail. And while the BBC SO players complained that some tempi were unplayably fast, ‘Nimrod’ still spanned over six minutes (vs. 3m 54s in Boult’s 1970 recording). Premiered as part of the opening of the John F Kennedy Center in 1971, Mass was recorded for Columbia shortly after [now a Sony reissue G010003584083C]. And following the Naxos set by Bernstein’s protégée Marin Alsop this spring we had a fourth version,


‘Wow!’ said Stravinsky when he heard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic recording of the Rite Of Spring


A formal portrait of Leonard Bernstein by Christina Burton graced DG’s 1980 LP box set of the Beethoven Symphonies

with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orch. [DG 483 5009]. Born in Massachusetts on the 25th of August 1917 of Ukrainian Jewish parents Louis (Leonard) Bernstein showed early fascination with the piano, and in 1935 he went to Harvard, where he befriended Aaron Copland,17 years his senior, whom he later credited as ‘my only real composition teacher’. Playing in the Harvard Glee Club, Leonard Bernstein was also involved in music-theatre productions. But meeting the charismatic Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos prompted him to set his sights on conducting – which he studied with Fritz Reiner at The Curtis Institute, Philadelphia. In 1940 he came to New York and began working in music publishing, writing arrangements under a pseudonym. That year he went to Tanglewood, Boston, and attended the conducting classes with Serge Koussevitzky, later becoming his assistant. Bernstein’s Symphony No 2 ‘The Age Of Anxiety’ was premiered by and dedicated to him, while in both his recordings the important piano part was played by

Lukas Foss, a life-long friend whom Bernstein had met at Tanglewood. Appointed to assist New York Philharmonic conductor Artur Rodzinski, Bernstein had his textbook breakthrough concert in 1943, substituting for Bruno Walter and allowed no rehearsal time. The broadcast led to various guest engagements and an appointment to the NY City Symphony (founded by Stokowski), and in 1944 he premiered his own First Symphony in Pittsburgh. He was also working on theatre music, Fancy Free developed as On The Town with lyrics by friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green (whom we saw in London when Candide was recorded in 1989).

TANGLEWOOD PREMIERES Bernstein came to London to make his Ƃrst recording as soloist/director of the Ravel G major Piano Concerto (July 1946) and at Tanglewood conducted his Ƃrst opera: the American premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, a Koussevitzky commission. He also conducted the 1949 world premiere of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony in Boston. Leonard Bernstein wanted to communicate his thoughts on great music via television, and his Ƃrst Omnibus lecture (CBS 1954) led to his Young Person’s Concerts series. His autumn 1973 Harvard lectures The Unanswered Question you can view via the Internet, and a book was published [ISBN 0-7697-1570-2; see]. In the last of the six he suggests that Mahler’s Ninth Symphony was prophetic of the later world order collapse. Bernstein was, of course, one of the Ƃrst two conductors (neck and


‘José Carreras received a humiliating verbal mauling’

74 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018


neck with Haitink) to record all nine symphonies – although he didn’t conduct any of the completions of No 10. No 8 was done in London and we ran a large feature article on the sessions [HFN Jul ’66]. His CBS NYPO cycle was not wholly superseded when he had moved to DG, re-recording them with various orchestras – No 4, alas, with a boy soprano! Along with the songs with orchestra these are now in costly box-sets with only a duplicated No 9 separately available [DG 479 8774], an Amnesty Concert from 1979 broadcast by RIAS – Bernstein’s only appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic. The move to DG and the ongoing love affair with the Vienna Philharmonic brought the LP box of Beethoven Symphonies (recently reissued on vinyl at an eye-watering £165) but nothing surpassed the NYPO ‘Eroica’ issued in 1967 with a 45rpm talk disc. It comes in the 10CD compendium detailed in the boxout – Bernstein’s very best


DG’s box set [482 9228] has 26 CDs and three DVDs covering orchestral, vocal and solo piano works, some outsourced – a lifetime’s investment

ë work from New York – but some UK dealers show it as discontinued. Beware: a similar second ten-disc ‘Original Jacket Collection’ is of his own music [Sony 88697279882].

QUADRAPHONIC RITE When I was lucky enough to sit in on the LSO sessions for the Rite of Spring in 1972, I could see how Bernstein used his telephone link with producer John McClure as a means of squeezing more from the players: ‘He says we have to do it again… I thought it was all right,’ he would say. And with everything in the can, he asked ‘as a favour’ would the LSO do a complete Part 2 once more. Engineered at Abbey Road by Robert Gooch, this was a quadraphonic production (US only release), although mixed down for two channels, and I believe that

Bernstein with Gidon Kremer and the VPO, performing the Brahms Violin Concerto in 1983

Part 2 is virtually that single take [Sony SMK 60694]. As biographer Humphrey Burton relates, when recording West Side Story was under discussion, Bernstein had never previously conducted it complete. It was done in New York with a controversial ‘crossover’ cast – opera principals Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, Tatiana Troyanos. The BBC made a Ƃlm of the Sept ’84 studio sessions, where the tenor receives a humiliating verbal mauling from Lenny. Former HFN contributor Edward Seckerson declared it ‘as stylistically inappropriate as it was commercially shrewd. Even Bernstein’s white-hot pick-up band sounded like someone had put a metronome on them’. Yet,

issued in various formats, it has sold in the millions [DG 4571992]. The demolition of the Berlin Wall in Nov ’89 was celebrated by a Bernstein performance of Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony with an augmented Bavarian RSO and texts modiƂed: ‘freiheit’ (freedom) for ‘freunde’ (joy). It was a typical gesture and there would be just one last CD, as Bernstein succumbed to progressive emphysema on 14th October 1990 only Ƃve days after announcing his withdrawal from conducting. Fittingly it was from Tanglewood that summer, with the Boston SO – the ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from Peter Grimes, and Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 [DG 431 768-2].

ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, etc Speakers Corner Columbia MS 6091 (180g LP) Bernstein as soloist/conductor in Rhapsody (1959) coupled with An American In Paris.

Haydn: The ‘Paris’ Symphonies Sony G0100018046061 (CD-quality FLAC) The six works can be found as a download set, with Nos 82 and 82 also as a remastered CD.

Shostakovich: Symphony Nos 1 and 7 DG 4777587 (two discs) ‘Overwhelming emotional power’ said BBC Music of the ‘Leningrad’ Symphony, made (unusually) with the Chicago SO.

Sibelius and Stravinsky ICA Classics ICAD 5082 (DVD) Bernstein filmed by the BBC at Fairfield Halls, Croydon (1966), with the LSO in Symphony No 5 and Rite Of Spring. Unmissable!

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde Decca E466 3812 With James King, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the VPO: recorded in 1966. A later version has René Kollo and Christa Ludwig with the Israel Philharmonic [Sony 88697806222].

Original Jacket Collection Vol 1 Sony SX10K89750 (10 CDs) Arguably the best of the New York/Columbia recordings, in facsimile card sleeves – Haydn, Beethoven, Mahler, Sibelius, modern American and Russian composers. Worth tracking down.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 75


STEVE SUTHERLAND Steve edited NME from 1992-2000, the Britpop years, launching and reviving the NME Awards. Previously he was Assistant Editor on Melody Maker. Among his many adventures he has been physically threatened by Axl Rose, hung out awhile with Jerry Garcia and had a drink or two with Keith Richards...

Nico Chelsea Girl It was an album the singer hated, while the reaction of the music press was at best lukewarm. All wrong, says Steve Sutherland, who hears the 180g reissue of the LP he Ƃrst time I heard the album, I cried.’ It’s rare but not entirely unknown for a musician to disown their own work. Lee Mavers wanted nothing to do with his one and only La’s LP [HFN Nov ’17], claiming the Ƃnished article did not represent the melodic visions gambolling in his brain. And Paul McCartney famously baulked at all the lush orchestration Phil Spector lavished on The Beatles’ Let It Be.


WISHES IGNORED But Nico really, really loathed her 1967 debut solo album Chelsea Girl. ‘I still cannot listen to it,’ she complained some years later, ‘because everything I wanted for that record, they took it away. I asked for drums, they said no. I asked for more guitars, they said no. And I asked for simplicity and they covered it in ƃutes! They added strings and I didn’t like them…’ What all three of these artists have in common – apart from their abject dismay – is, of course, that they’re wrong. The La’s ‘There She Goes’ is indie genius, ‘The Long And Winding Road’ is in no way diminished

by Phil Spector’s somewhat heavy hand, and Chelsea Girl, no matter what Nico thought, is downright gorgeous. Her predicament was simply that, as a woman in a man’s world, she was up against people who insisted they knew best and weren’t inclined to take on board her point of view. The ‘They’ she refers to is essentially its producer Tom Wilson, a man with an admirable track record and a stubborn propensity for embellishment. It was Wilson, working on ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, who coaxed Bob Dylan away from his folkie roots in an anarchic electric rock direction. It was Wilson, too, who virtually created Simon & Garfunkel. The duo had split after the commercial failure of their 1964 debut LP, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, but, unbeknownst to them, Wilson, who’d produced the album, overdubbed electric instrumentation onto the ‘Sounds Of Silence’ single and within a few months it was No 1 in the charts.

So he was up to his old tricks again when it came to Chelsea Girl. Wilson had Ƃrst encountered Nico during the recording of The Velvet Underground’s debut LP. Although the sleeve says that Andy Warhol produced it, it was really Wilson who was responsible for helming The Velvet Underground & Nico, a project over which the singer had absolutely no say. Where she’d come from was somewhat of a mystery. She was German to be sure, there was no mistaking her heavy accent, but a lifetime apparent need to self-mythologise muddied the already dark waters. She was born Christa Päffgen in Köln in 1938 and at 16 was modelling around Europe, taking the name Nico from an ex-boyfriend, photographer Nikos Paptakis. In 1959 she had a minor acting role in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and was studying acting in New York under Lee Strasberg. She’d actually released a single before being hooked up with The Velvets. Coming to London she recorded a decent Gordon Lightfoot song, ‘I’m Not Sayin’’ in the manner of Marianne Faithfull, for the Immediate label. Her boyfriend at the time, The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, produced.

‘Warhol insisted that they take on Nico as window dressing’



Nico live on stage in November 1985 at Lampeter University. She passed away in July 1988 following a cerebral haemorrhage caused by her falling from her bicycle while in Ibiza

76 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

Once back in New York, it was surely inevitable that she’d hook up with Andy Warhol’s glamorously dissolute crowd at The Factory. Warhol had recently been approached to help open a discothèque in Long Island and was looking for a house band. Coincidentally, he had just encountered The Velvets at the Greenwich Village venue ‘Café Bizarre’ and decided that they Ƃt the bill, insisting that they take on Nico as window dressing. ‘Something beautiful to counteract the kind of screeching ugliness they were trying to sell,’ explained Paul Morrissey, a Factory Ƃlmmaker and one of the band’s Ƃrst managers. ‘And the combination of a really


Priced £21, the 180g vinyl reissue of Nico’s Chelsea Girl on Back To Black is available to order from beautiful girl standing in front of all this decadence was what was needed.’ The band’s leader and centre of attention Lou Reed was not a happy bunny but he sucked it up – the Warhol connection was too good a main chance to pass up over a hissy Ƃt. Apart from the fact that Nico was likely to steal Reed’s spotlight, there were three further complications: she was supposedly deaf in one ear so couldn’t sing in tune; she thought of the band as her backing group and wanted to sing every song; and the band didn’t actually have anything in their repertoire she could sing. Reluctantly, on Warhol’s insistence, Reed wrote her a trilogy of ballads that now stand as some of the most haunting ever. In a precursor to the material that would emerge on Chelsea Girl, ‘Femme Fatale’, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ seem, as one astute critic put it, ‘directly drawn from Nico’s psyche’. This was the scenario that Tom Wilson inherited, so when he was presented with the task of producing her solo debut, maybe it’s little wonder that he rode roughshod over Nico’s wishes. Nico began a solo residency at a club called ‘The Dom’ in St Marks Street where she was initially accompanied by a tape deck playing Reed’s pre-recorded guitar solos, an engagement that led to guests dropping by to help out – including Reed, The Velvets’ John Cale and Sterling Morrison, local hotshot Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Leonard Cohen and a talented young waif called Jackson Browne (later her lover). When The Velvets had an offer to tour, Nico stayed in New York. Inspired by her then lover, The Doors’ Jim Morrison, to make a record of her dreams, what she did instead of touring was Chelsea Girl. Recorded at Manhattan’s Mayfair Studios in October 1967, the album was named after Warhol’s 1966 experimental documentary Chelsea Girls

in which Nico starred. It captured the mundane day-to-day activities of scenesters at the infamous junkie hang-out The Chelsea Hotel.

ULTIMATE LONER Chelsea Girls’ title track, written by Reed, is almost a continuation of the Ƃlm in the form of a ballad, each verse detailing the comings and goings of the hotel’s retinue of drag queens and addicts. The ten tracks were all written by the men in Nico’s life and, it seems, composed for and about her. ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’, for instance, was written while Bob Dylan vacationed with Nico in Greece in 1964. Each track is a complete communion between writer and singer, so personal they became hers alone. The best known track after the title number is Jackson Browne’s ‘These Days’ – ‘the ultimate loner anthem’. Many have attempted it over the years, including Browne himself, but no-one comes close to matching Nico’s melancholic resignation. The amazing thing about Chelsea Girls is that, although it was created out of New York decadence, it is timeless, placeless and unique because, quite simply, there was only one Nico and nobody sang – or ever has sung – the way she does. One critic remarked that on the Lou Reed/John Cale collaboration ‘Little Sister’, she sings like ‘a cello getting up in the morning’. And the ƃute and strings she hated so much?

They’re moody and magical, arranged by Larry Fallon who wove the same magic on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. On its release, Chelsea Girl’s reception was lukewarm to say the least, The Los Angeles Times summing it up, ‘Nico’s a classy girl, but they’d sell more Nico if she were naked – and not hiding behind a string orchestra in a ƃower print dress’. How very wrong they were. From then on Nico took complete control of her own destiny and recorded a series of the most extraordinary and bleak albums in the history of rock.

RE-RELEASE VERDICT Fraulein Päffgen’s – OK then, Nico’s – Chelsea Girl was first issued as a mono LP in the States in Oct 1967 and published on the Verve label (V6-5032 for the stereo version). We didn’t have a CD until 1986 and this involved a remix of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’. The 180g vinyl release here is part of Universal’s Back To Black series [UMC/Polydor 5781395] and comes with an MP3 download voucher. The liner notes by Pat Patterson, reprinted from IN New York, comprise an interview with Nico given during the sessions. HFN

Sound Quality: 85% 0








- 100

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 77


Squeeze Cool For Cats The Deptford group’s second album was derided by the music press, saw the lyrics to its title track censored by the BBC, and it was even rejected by their record label at Ƃrst. Yet the LP went gold, interest kick-started by the band’s appearance on Top Of The Pops Words: Johnny Black 78 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018


INITIAL REJECTION Unfortunately, their debut album, with former Velvet Underground mainstay John Cale as producer, had been an unhappy experience, with Cale pushing them to explore outlandish ideas. However, that album’s sole hit, ‘Take Me I’m Yours’, was produced by the band without Cale. Thus emboldened, they set about recording their second album on their own – only to have it rejected by A&M Records. ‘Cool For Cats we recorded twice,’ explained the band’s other songwriter, Glenn Tilbrook, ‘because we didn’t get it right the Ƃrst time, and the record company said so. They were right. So we went back in and did most of it again.’ Retaining just two songs from the original version, ‘It’s Not Cricket’ and ‘Goodbye Girl’, Squeeze repaired to Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row studio to


The band in 1979 (l-r): Jools Holland, John Bentley, Gilson Lavis, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook pictured in 2017


Poster for the Albany Empire in Deptford’s 1978 Xmas show


The 7in ‘Cool For Cats’ single was pressed on pink vinyl and issued in March 1979



ool For Cats was the second album by Squeeze, a quirky quintet from Deptford in South East London, who had arrived just as punk was taking off. Never mind that the album produced no fewer than four hit singles, Squeeze were totally uncool as far as the ruling punk hierarchy of the era was concerned, as they had the misfortune of being remarkably competent musicians. Mostly, however, Squeeze were not drawing their inspirations from punk, but from the generation of pub-rockers nurtured by maverick indie labels such as Stiff Records. ‘You had people like Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe writing s**t-hot songs and you really had to sharpen your pencil to match your peers,’ said one of the band’s two main songwriters, Chris Difford.

have another crack at it. Their Ƃrst choice for a producer was Nick Lowe but, says Difford, Stiff records cofounder Jake Riviera ‘was negotiating the deal and he asked for more money than we were going to spend on the album, just for Nick’s fee as a producer’. Instead, they brought the revered John Wood on board as co-producer, and the results were much more satisfactory. Despite the band championing the track ‘Up The Junction’, A&M rejected it as the album’s Ƃrst single, pointing out, quite reasonably, that it didn’t have a chorus. Thus, the Ƃrst single plucked from Cool For Cats was ‘Goodbye Girl’, which appeared with a limited edition 3D picture sleeve. It only limped to No 63 in the singles chart. Nevertheless, this blissfully catchy track provided the band with their breakthrough song in America because, by the simple expedient of changing the line, ‘My wife has moved to Guernsey’ to ‘My wife has moved to Boston’, Difford and Tilbrook

opened up markets in Boston, New York and the East Coast generally. Next up for rotation at 45rpm was the title track, which became unquestionably the song that Ƃrst introduced the wider British public to Squeeze, by charting high enough to get the band on Top Of The Pops. Difford and Tilbrook’s standard modus operandi at this time involved Difford writing lyrics for which Tilbrook would then create a melody, but the song ‘Cool For Cats’ didn’t work that way.

‘“Glenn had a backing track, but we didn’t have a lyric”’

ENTER BENNY HILL According to Difford, ‘Glenn had a backing track… but we didn’t have a lyric’. After listening to it in the studio, Chris took it home and while watching an edition of The Benny Hill Show was struck by how well the meter of one of the comedian’s songs would Ƃt with Glenn’s backing track. Thus inspired, Difford devised a kind of South London rap based on the content of current TV shows. ‘The next day I went into the studio, we stuck a mic up and I

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 79

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According to most sources, Cool For Cats was recorded at two respected London studios, Britannia Row and Olympic Studios, and then mixed at Sound Techniques in Chelsea. At the Britannia Row studio, Jools Holland remembered, ‘They had this amazing new mixing desk, and on day one somebody knocked a can of coke over it and brought everything to a halt. That was what we were like – gumming up the best mixing desk in the world with the most syrupy thing you can Ƃnd.’ In Difford’s 2017 autobiography, Some Fantastic Place, he describes the atmosphere of engineer John Woods’ Sound Techniques studio. ‘John had built it with his bare hands, and it was his musical version of my dad’s shed – with soldering iron and wires with boxes everywhere.’ Wood was, of course, the man Squeeze entrusted to be their coproducer on Cool For Cats. He had worked with them on their Caleproduced debut album and, more importantly, had earned a reputation as one of Britain’s greatest sound engineers, whose recordings and mixes had a depth, space and clarity second to none. ‘When I’m making a record,’ Wood once declared, ‘I like to be able to hear everything that’s going on and, when I’ve Ƃnished the mix, I like

to be able to pinpoint everything. I like things to be in some kind of perspective. It’s not something that I consciously go out to do, but that’s the way it ends up. More than anything else, I like to be able to hear everything in its place.’ That philosophy chimed well with Squeeze’s approach to recording, and Difford has recalled, ‘It was a very productive place to work, and with a nice pub across the street. Writing was fast and we were on a roll – a new trajectory that would gather pace over the next four years.’

just sang it.’ In the event, Difford’s delivery was much more reminiscent of Ian Dury than of Benny Hill.

CENSORED BY AUNTIE ‘Glenn came up with the idea of having backing vocals singing “cool for cats” but because we couldn’t afford expensive backing singers we got our girlfriends in to sing the line and, in many ways, they sold the song.’ Certainly the presence of two pretty girls dancing around Difford on Top Of The Pops did the song no harm on it’s way to peaking at No 2, although BBC executives had forced the band to change its lyrics before allowing them in front of the television cameras. ‘We were victims of censorship when we did “Cool For Cats”,’ Difford has said. ‘The producers made us change the word “bleedin” to “bloomin”. We also had to change the line “give the dog a bone” to “give the dog a phone”. Absolute madness – totally farcical. The odd thing was that it was for a show which was going out live, so I could have sung anything I wanted.’ The track was also, of course, used as the title of the album and, even in the late ’70s it required a little explanation for younger fans. ‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with the phrase “Cool For Cats”, but it was the Ƃrst rock ’n’ roll television show in England during 1959,’ explained Difford at the time. ‘The engineer we used remembered it. It seemed like a good title. That’s where it originated – I just worked it into some personal experiences within the lyrical content.’ In May 1979, no doubt buoyed by the success of ‘Cool For Cats’,

they were able to convince A&M that the time was right to release ‘Up The Junction’. Most of their early songs germinated in London, but this one sprang to life while they were in New Orleans during their second American tour. ‘We didn’t have much money,’ Difford said, ‘so we had to stay 15 miles outside of town. We were young, we wanted to go to the French Quarter, but we had to sit there and do our laundry, feeling homesick.’

TERRIBLE VIDEO ‘The lyrics just popped into my head, inƃuenced by watching kitchen sink TV dramas by Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Alan Ayckbourn. It was written in one sitting. Sometimes you just put pen to paper and it’s done.’ After returning to London, Tilbrook devised the melody during his lunch break at the studio. ‘It’s got a particularly terrible video,’ he remembered later. ‘We’d gone down to John Lennon’s old house in Weybridge to shoot the clip for “Cool For Cats” in the church grounds there. ‘At the end of the day, the director told us to play “Up The Junction”, because he was doing a quick video for it at the same time. We’d all had a bottle or two of wine by then, and look much the worse for wear, perching on fridges and cookers.’ Duff video or not, ‘Up The Junction’ matched the success of ‘Cool

‘“As it was live I could have sung anything I wanted”’


Late ’70s promo shot of the band. Keyboardist Jools Holland (centre) left the group for a solo career in 1980


Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, was one of two venues used for the album’s recording The two singles ‘Goodbye Girl’ and ‘Up The Junction’


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Chris Difford (left) and Glenn Tilbrook first met back in 1973, forming Squeeze a year later then writing the majority of the band’s hits

For Cats’, peaking at No 2 in the UK singles chart during June 1979, but if they were hoping to achieve a Top Five hat-trick with the follow-up, ‘Slap And Tickle’, they must have felt some disappointment when it stalled at No 24. In retrospect, though, it’s no surprise that such a melodically predictable and repetitive ditty should fail to match the success of its predecessors.

LADDISH TALES The album itself had been released on 9th April 1979 and, although it never rose higher than No 45 in the chart, it went gold on 1st May. Its relatively poor chart performance might be linked to the fact that it attracted some negative criticism, notably from Ian Birch of the Melody Maker who lambasted it as an ‘abomination’ executed by ‘prepschool Stranglers’ and consisting of ‘puerile sexism, laddish tales of drunkenness and dumb words’. Birch was probably offended by the lyric of ‘It’s So Dirty’, in which Difford appeared to be describing girlfriends as ‘it’, but Difford has stood by the song, declaring, ‘This is about some characters we got entangled with around Deptford. Their women became “its” instead of Janes and Jennies. That’s their chauvinism in the song, not mine. ‘They’d walk into the pub with their girl, leave her at a table while they got drunk at the bar, then drag her out, f**k her and that was it. Some of those girls I met were really nice. They could have done more with themselves than tagging along with those villains.’ There’s no denying that the album focuses considerably on seedy

sexual encounters and stereotypical chauvinistic attitudes in songs such as ‘Touching Me, Touching You’ and ‘The Knack’ but to accuse the band of sexism Jools Holland said was ‘like saying we support a gangster’s lifestyle because we wrote about it in “The Knack”’. Tilbrook too has pointed out that writing about a distasteful subject does not automatically imply approval of it. ‘We were in this South-East London environment, a great place for low-life inspiration, being courted by local mini-villains,’ he said back in 1992. ‘Sounds called us Tetley Bitter boys. More worryingly, [one particular right wing journalist] started to champion us. And the kind of loutish fan-base it attracted still exists today, as we found out on our last tour.’ The band remains justiƂably proud of Cool For Cats and several songs from the album remain in their live repertoire both as a group (they have dates in the UK this summer) and as solo performers but, over the years, Tilbrook has achieved some perspective on how it was created.

With only about 32 editions of this 1979 new wave classic distributed in the States, Japan, the UK and Europe, it’s a relatively straightforward matter to winkle out the most interesting handful of variants among them. ORIGINAL VINYL (1979) Given the presence of the venerable John Wood as coproducer, it’s no surprise that anyone laying hands on an original vinyl pressing of this album [A&M Records AMLH 68503] will Ƃnd a terriƂcsounding item. It has been criticised as ‘boxy-sounding’ but Wood was such an individualistic producer that these criticisms may stem from listeners subsequently accustomed to digital ‘purity’.

‘The album focuses on seedy sexual encounters’

DOING IT MY WAY ‘On Cool For Cats a lot of stuff was directed the way I wanted it, and to an extent that steamrolled over Jools’ style of piano playing,’ Tilbrook has admitted. ‘I had the idea that I wrote the song and it must be this way and if Jools didn’t Ƃt in with that, then I’d do it myself. ‘I’ve realised since that the band is made up of a bunch of different people who play in different ways, and what comes out is the band. The thing is to tailor things so everyone is comfortable.’

somewhat compressed. There are two historically interesting bonus tracks with this version, ‘I Must Go’ and ‘Ain’t It Sad’, and both of these were recorded during the original Cool For Cats sessions in 1978 that A&M Records rejected. JAPANESE CD MINI-ALBUM REPLICA (2007) Completists will Ƃnd this import [Strange Days Records POCE1129] irresistible, because it includes seven bonus tracks, thus making it the most complete representation of Squeeze’s 1978 sessions. It’s worth noting that many people seem to feel that the best-sounding Squeeze artefacts are on compilations, such as the UK version of

US CD (1987)/ JAPANESE CD (1989) Cool For Cats started appearing on CD in the late ’80s, and these two editions [in the UK: A&M Records CD 3231; Japan A&M D18Y4115] are both considered quite listenable and a fair representation of how the original vinyl sounded. If anything, the Japanese edition is the preferable release. REMASTER (1997) This version [A&M 540 804-2] appears to have been the Ƃrst attempt at remastering, with Glenn Tilbrook and Roger Wake in charge. It was generally rated acceptable but sounding

Singles 45 & Under [A&M Records CDA-64922] issued here in 1984. So if you love the band’s hits and aren’t too worried about having all of the album tracks, this 12-track CD might just conceivably be the way to go.

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Todd Rundgren Never afraid to walk a musical tightrope with the more ambitious artists of his time, this singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has produced more than his fair share of watershed albums. Steve Sutherland examines the work of Todd Rundgren



Todd Harry Rundgren in 2017 Label of the LP Something/ Anything? from 1972



o you know how to write a song? Do you know anything about writing? If you’re going to write for records, it goes like this: A, B, C, B, C, C. I don’t know what you’re doing. You’re doing A, D, F, G, B, D, C. You don’t know how to write a song... Have you ever listened to pop music? Have you ever heard any rock ’n’ roll music... You should go downstairs when you leave here... and buy some rock ’n’ roll records...’ SufƂce to say the meeting was not going well. But then again, the two young men who were about to haul off into the street with their tapes and hopes and dreams rejected were getting pretty used to the bum’s rush. They’d lost count of the playbacks, the blank faces, the shaking of heads over the past 12 months since they’d started pitching their project, so when legendary CBS executive Clive Davis gives them the thumbs down and an ear-bashing, they do their best to laugh it off. The two young fellows in question are Michael Aday and Jim Steinman and the stuff noone’s buying had been originally


British rock/ pop band BadƂnger on the cover of their 1973 LP, Straight Up

conceived by Steinman as part of Neverland, a musical update of Peter Pan. Aday was introduced to the songs when the pair found themselves on tour together with the National Lampoon Show, a zany alternative comedy revue spun off from the satirical magazine.

WILD AND CRAZY Aday thought the songs were great and the two started developing them thematically, aiming for a rebellious concept of sorts. They then wore out shoe leather lugging their wares from record company to record company, getting regularly slapped down until… Tah dah! One wonderful, miraculous day there’s this wild and crazy godsend of a guy who hears it and likes it. No, even better, he loves it. No matter that he actually thinks it’s a deliberate p**stake of Bruce Springsteen. No matter that he’s swallowed their little white lie that they have a recording contract with RCA. The guy’s a red-hot producer with some tasty connections and not only does he think what he’s heard is

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hilarious, he’s up for giving a helping hand. ‘I’ve got to do this album,’ he tells them. ‘It’s just so out there.’ Now if anyone on earth should know anything about ‘out there’, it’s surely this guy. In fact, he’s pretty much the Lord God Almighty of Out There, a self-proclaimed Wizard, A True Star. Meet Mr Todd Rundgren. Todd’s something of a prodigy to put it mildly. Hailing from Philadelphia, he Ƃrst makes a name for himself as the driving force behind The Nazz, a natty psychedelic pop outƂt which achieves a modicum of success before Ƃzzling out leaving their leader to pursue a solo career which he takes to with gusto, in spirit as well as in name. Underwhelmed by others’ production of The Nazz records, he throws himself into a spell of thorough studio education, emerging with a series of admirably self-produced power pop albums – Runt (1970), Runt – The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren (’71), the brilliant double Something/Anything? (’72) and the aforementioned A Wizard, A True Star (’73) – all a bit Beatles-y,

a bit Beach Boys-y, a bit Motown-y and a bit brilliant, which duly leads to abundant offers to man the studio controls for a growing bunch of musical admirers. It’s probably no coincidence that throughout the decade he then harnesses his creativity to a cast of notorious waifs, strays and weirdos, much like Steinman and Aday, our story’s two nascent heroes. In 1973, Todd teams up with Grand Funk Railroad, a band beloved of the head-banging hordes of middle America and derided by the critics as Neanderthal. The resultant album, We’re An American Band, their seventh long-player, adds Todd’s pop sheen to their previous sweat and muscle and the title track, released as a single, broadens their appeal massively and gives the group their Ƃrst US No 1.

BRIGHT SPARKS The successful relationship between the pop maestro and the stadium stompers carries over to 1974’s Shinin’ On, their next LP, which yields another chart topper in their monstrous version of the GofƂn/King early ’60s Little Eva hit ‘The LocoMotion’. Fab stuff. Another of his projects is this strange local Los Angeles band formed by two brothers, Ron and Russell Mael. They call themselves Halfnelson and have such a decidedly quirky take on the whole pop malarkey that no-one else will touch them with a barge-pole. Todd does their debut, self-titled LP which doesn’t actually do much until they change their band name to Sparks and reissue it accordingly – the platform Todd provides acknowledged by the bros as the kick-start to their subsequent long and illustrious career.

Grand Funk Railroad’s original lineup in 1971 (l-r) Don Brewer, Mark Farner and Mel Schacher


Sleeve of The New York Dolls’ self-titled debut album, produced by Rundgren


Label of We’re An American Band, the LP that gave Grand Funk Railroad their Ƃrst No 1


Posing for a promo shot in the 1990s – UK band The Psychedelic Furs


Eccentric as both of these endeavours undoubtedly are, they pale in comparison to the challenge presented to him in 1973 when he’s offered the gig of producing the debut LP by The New York Dolls. The Dolls, lest we forget, are a druggy, glammy mess, darlings of the underground press and the demi monde of the Big Apple club scene, a riot live, a camp, crossdressing smacktacle who, when they eventually appear on The Old Grey Whistle Test, are famously dismissed by a smug Whispering Bob Harris as ‘mock rock’. Whatever they are, or aren’t, it’s widely assumed, they will never translate their trannie drag appeal onto vinyl. Eventually Mercury takes the plunge, seduced by the band’s social circle but wisely unwilling to splash out too much moolah on trying to squeeze a record out of them. Legend has it that during a meeting between the record company and the band to decide on a producer, singer David Johansen nods out, only to resurface suddenly when Todd’s name

comes up. Others say that Todd is actually the only producer brave (or daft) enough to take them on. Anyway, that’s exactly what happens, Todd being familiar with the band’s chaotic live schtick from hanging out at Max’s Kansas City with his lady at the time, the infamous ‘muse’ Bebe Buell. His budget is tiny – $17,000 – his time frame cramped – a mere eight days – and his studio, The Record Plant, he considers ropey. Then there’s the band themselves, surrounded by a posse of bombedout hangers-on. Concentrating on getting the perfect take isn’t exactly their forte and they busk it, choosing to record the songs that go down best live, recording them in their ƃamboyant stage get-up, sloppy as you like while Todd, the consummate musician, attempts to make it all sound palatable while retaining their anarchic spirit. ‘I think he was actually quite taken that we obviously derived our talent from the streets,’ said the band’s Sylvain Sylvain later. ‘We may not have been professionally trained, but we could still write three-minutes worth of magic.’ Todd is left with half a day to

‘Rundgren was left with half a day to mix the entire album’

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Hear STREAM at these dealers Audio-Philia 0131 221 9753 | Analogue Seduction 01733 350878 Audio T Swansea 01792 474608 | MCRU 01484 538438 | Homesound 0131 662 1327 PLanalogue 01865 69 30 32 | TM3 Connections 0117 370 5786









Rundgren has the idea to feed a guitar through a Leslie speaker, giving the song ‘Baby Blue’ its signature swirling sound and Badfinger their last hit

The first track on Rundgren’s Something/ Anything?, ‘I Saw The Light’ peaks at No 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rundgren plays all the instruments

Muso meets mayhem yet the marriage works and Rundgren’s production work with The New York Dolls results in the classic track – ‘Looking For A Kiss’

The title track to Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re An American Band is released as a single, and gives the hard rock group their first of two No 1s Stateside

Despite being released two years after the LP, ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ peaks at No 15 in the UK, giving Meat Loaf his first Top 20 UK hit

Rundgren is asked to help the art-punk poet achieve a more radio-friendly pop sound and Patti Smith’s ‘Frederick’ is a US and UK hit

Recorded at Rundgren’s home studio in New York, ‘Love My Way’ is a Top 50 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and puts The Psychedelic Furs back on the map

mix the lot and, with the band interfering but endlessly distracted, the Ƃnal result disappoints both him and the Dolls although, with the gift of hindsight, Johansen reckons he made it sound like the listener was in a room with the band playing and Sylvain added that it captured, as accurately as possible, the Dolls experience at the time.

SLOW BURNER What Todd himself had to say was, ‘The Dolls weren’t out to expand any musical horizons’, while Johansen considered Rundgren to be ‘an expert on second-rate rock ’n’ roll... the band was kind of persona non grata at the time, with most producers. They were afraid of us. But Todd wasn’t. We all liked him from Max’s... Todd was co... and he was a producer!’ Truth be told, the album doesn’t immediately set the world on Ƃre but, as with other classic slow burners such as The Velvet Underground’s debut, it gains cult status and grows in reputation over the decades. Many of the original punk rockers are Dolls fans and a young Steven Morrissey worships them from afar in his Manchester bedroom, assimilating some of their outrage into this little band he forms called The Smiths. Today The New York Dolls is widely considered one of the greatest debut albums ever, Rolling Stone magazine rating it higher

than even Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and marvelling how it ‘captured both the glory and sorrow of glam, the high jinx and wasted youth, with electric photorealism’. When what was left of the Dolls reforms in 2009 to record Cause I Sez So, Todd’s back at the controls. In the meantime, other strings to his bow include The Patti Smith Group’s fourth and Ƃnal LP Waves (1979), Steve Hillage’s album L (1976), a couple with the great but doomed BadƂnger (Straight Up and Ass – both 1973), Hall & Oates’ War Babies (1974), XTC’s Skylarking (1986) and one of my personal highs, The Psychedelic Furs’ third LP, Forever Now. The Furs were a little ƃummoxed at this stage in their career. A couple of founding members had quit and their go-to producer Steve Lillywhite was otherwise engaged, as was David Bowie who’d shown interest in the project. Enter Todd. During six weeks in Spring 1982 he puts the band through their paces, augmenting and expanding their sound with guest musicians and backing vocals from Flo and Eddie (The Turtles, Frank Zappa, T Rex, etc). The result is a sweet wall of sound

‘Todd was an “expert on second-rate rock ’n’ roll”’

that Rolling Stone admiringly refers to as a ‘thick vicious smear’ and the album remains a Ƃrm fan favourite, the single ‘Love My Way’ up there with ‘Pretty In Pink’ in the band’s canon.



Bat Out Of Hell, which was released in 1977


Michael Aday – better known by his stage name Meat Loaf

To conclude, let’s rewind to where we came in. Todd decides to produce this crazy concept at Bearsville in Woodstock, a studio he dearly loves. He builds the songs operatically, layer by layer, everything OTT. He hires Roy Brittan and Max Weinberg from Springsteen’s E Street Band and members of his own prog rock outƂt Utopia to help out. He plays guitar and encourages Michael Aday into some classically monumental vocal performances. They shop it around. E Street’s Steve Van Zandt recommends it to Cleveland International, a subsidiary of Epic. The album comes out. And the rest, as they say, is history. Michael Aday? You know him as Meat Loaf. The album? Bat Out Of Hell. Reviews: ‘It’s hard not to marvel at the skill behind this grandly silly, irresistible album’. Sales: over 43 million copies worldwide to date. Jim Steinman reckons Todd is, ‘The only genuine genius I’ve ever worked with’. Roll over Gandalf and tell Merlin the news: there’s a new wizard in town.

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The Original King Bee (The Best Of Slim Harpo) Analogue Productions APB114 (200g LP)

Mastered by Cohearent Audio from the best analogue tapes, this compilation covers 19571969, so judgments about sound quality are not meant to be taken as sonic absolutes. Rather, it reƃects what care and integrity can do with iffy ‘historic’ originals. Harpo was a blues legend revered by the British – The Rolling Stones covered ‘I’m A King Bee’, while The Yardbirds, The Kinks, Them and others also plundered his catalogue. This disc gives you 14 original recordings from the Excello label, including the 1957 takes of ‘I’m A King Bee’ of ‘I Got Love If You Want It’, and 1960’s ‘Moody Blues’ which may have inspired the band that left blues for Prog, sounding almost too good to be true. KK

Sound Quality: 90% 0








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Analogue Productions APP-413-45 (two 45rpm LPs)

Modern Harmonic/Sundazed MH-8035 (two discs + DVD)

Sundazed LP5550 (mono; 180g yellow vinyl)

Shame on me if I rave about this 1974 LP just for one song, as the southern rockers’ second release is as good as anything they ever produced. In fact, it’s just about as good a swamp rock/hard boogie masterwork as you can Ƃnd. But, aided by 45rpm status, it delivers what is the punchiest, most visceral, kick-ass incarnation yet of a song known intimately to every air-guitarist worth his imaginary strings: ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. When a new edition adds something indescribable to a track you might have heard a hundred times via a dozen formats, then that is reason enough to buy. Try not playing this as loud as your system allows. KK

In addition to freaky effects LPs from the 1950s, Sundazed’s Modern Harmonic subsidiary has been digging up wild soundtracks like this forgotten 1972 surf/ psychedelic opus – and it’s as ‘cult’ as anything it has ever issued. Appropriately pressed in sea-blue vinyl, the music covers too many genres to list, but it certainly evokes the period, especially surf culture. Trust me: there aren’t many LPs with liner notes that mention The Firesign Theater, The Sunrays, The United States Of America (the band, not the country) and, indirectly, Captain & Tennille. As a bonus, to provide context, a DVD of the Ƃlm is included, one you’re unlikely to Ƃnd elsewhere. KK

As a New Englander who got to hear the Rockin’ Ramrods, Puff, Orphan and other Boston bands in his youth, LPs such as this – from obscure local garage/punk legends – are reviewed with a bias to which I must own up to. This ultra-rarity from 1967, with near-mythical collector’s status, boasts Ronn Campisi compositions, a cover of The Remains’ ‘Don’t Look Back’, must-play garage/frat-rock standards including ‘In The Midnight Hour’ and a handful of originals, all of which deƂne The Rising Storm as a Nuggets-worthy band responsible for a self-pressed LP now worth $6500. Only now you can buy it for less than a tenth of that. Say, ‘Thank you, Sundazed!’. KK

Sound Quality: 90%

Sound Quality: 90%

Sound Quality: 85%

Second Helping






A Sea For Yourself




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Calm Before…





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Columbia Legacy 88985454672 (two discs)

Man In The Moon MITMCD27

Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2190 (stereo SACD)

Volume 13 in The Bootleg Series, and also available in an 8CD + DVD version for irredeemable Dylanologists, this comes from that odd period when the Zim was ‘born again’, which alienated a lot of his fans. (The non-Christian and lapsed Christian fans at any rate.) Still, he delivered some incredible material, including ‘Saved’, ‘Slow Train’ and the enervating ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ – think of this as his ‘Gospel Period’. Collected from live gigs during 1979-81, here are 30 superbly recorded, more-ish performances which immediately had me wondering if I could afford the £120 for the full set. This also contains a previously unreleased composition. KK

Another CD to keep you in touch with your inner socialist, this all-acoustic release from 1965 is a classic, almost cliché of a ‘protest’ record of the era. Ochs’ second title, it recalls the Ƃrst two from his slightly younger, fellow-Jewish troubadour, Bob Dylan. This contains 13 originals and only one cover, composed by Ewan MacColl. Ochs was wildly proliƂc but remains an obscure cult Ƃgure. Like Tim Buckley and others re-discovered years after their deaths, he deserves better than to be written off by people like me as another benighted schmuck who adored Che Guevara. This visceral release is impressive for its leanness, and it sounds fantastic. KK

After the LP [HFN Jul ’18], this alternative for those without turntables is a revelation, with sound so close to the analogue offering that you will be astounded. To recap, this 1974 album is arguably the one that made her a superstar for the 1970s1990s, most notably for her impeccable taste in material, delivered with that crystal-clear and inimitable voice. From rock to country to standards to roots music, she would do it all, but here she emerged as a truly brilliant interpreter of early rock ’n’ roll from Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers, while becoming the chanteuse par excellence of LA. MagniƂcent. Worth buying just for her version of ‘Willin’’. KK

Sound Quality: 85%

Sound Quality: 90%

Sound Quality: 90%

Trouble No More




I Ain’t Marching Anymore






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Heart Like A Wheel




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Forever Changes – 50th Anniversary Edition Rhino/Elektra RS-565276 9 (four CDs + DVD + LP)

I know this 1967 LA masterpiece has been reissued more times than one can count, but that’s because it is one of the Ƃnest albums of the rock era. Following Mobile Fidelity’s LP and SACD – which have a slight sonic edge – here is the album in stereo and mono on a CD apiece, a third with alternate mixes, a fourth with 45s and outtakes, and a DVD in stereo 96kHz/ 24-bit, plus a video clip. To justify the 12in case, this includes the stereo album on vinyl. There’s not much left to say about this adventurous, sensitive, elegiac treasure, other than that it does more to vindicate the music of the Summer of Love and all that implies, an album in that spirit but one which transcends psychedelic drivel. Truly divine. KK

Sound Quality: 95% 0








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Moments Preserved (96kHz/24-bit, FLAC); Impulse! 002844202

the Ƃnale have surely never been taken as fast as here? But Gatti’s reading vividly brings out all of Mahler’s contradictions – if you think this is a ‘comfortable’ work this will all be a revelation. And it’s full of tiny details – eg, the oxen in (iv) – brought out in superb engineering from two Nov ’17 performances, with full orchestra Ƃlling out the Ƃne acoustic space and with a highly detailed soundstage. CB

Three years on from his Impulse! debut, Aria, prodigiously talented jazz pianist Fortner returns with this set, combining covers and self-written numbers, backed by his regular collaborators bassist Ameen Saleem and drummer Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons. There’s an easygoing assurance about both his playing and the way the three work together, whether opening with Merv GrifƂn’s ‘Wheel Of Fortune’ theme or on the tight swing of ‘Pep Talk’. But the album can deliver some unexpected delights, such as the interplay of the trio and Fortner’s atonal playing on Saleem’s ‘Beans And Cornbread’ or the way Fortner bounces off Roy Hargrove’s trumpet on ‘Monk’s Medley’. It’s a delight, sounding like a well-sorted live set and treated to a crisp, pacey and highly detailed recording, the trio – again with Hargrove – going out in style on Benny Green’s ‘Phoebe’s Samba’. AE

Sound Quality: 90%

Sound Quality: 85%


Mahler Symphony No 4 (192kHz/24-bit, FLAC); RCO Live RCO18004

When he was with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Daniele Gatti made a well-received Conifer CD of this symphony, and now he’s with the Concertgebouw joins a line of principal conductors stretching back to Mengelberg (in 1939) to have recorded Mahler 4. Haitink has done so four times, with a very attractive 2006 version with Christine Schäfer on this same RCO label. Gatti’s soprano here is Julia Kleiter – very naturally balanced with the orchestra (for once). The sleigh-bell outbursts in

OUR PROMISE Following our Investigation feature [HFN, Jun ’11] in which we examined the claimed quality of high-resolution downloads, Hi-Fi News & Record Review is now measuring the true sample rate and bit-depth of the HD music downloads reviewed on these pages. These unique reviews will be a regular source of information for those seeking new and re-mastered recordings offered at high sample rates and with the promise of delivering the very best sound quality. (Note: asterisk in headings denotes technical reservation explained below.) PM

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This DXD (352.8kHz) recording employed Merging Technologies ADCs and editing/ mixing software. The noise ƃoor is a little high while downsampling to 176.4kHz followed by asymmetric upsampling to 192kHz was probably unnecessary. PM









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Recorded at Sear Sound, this 96kHz Ƃle shows no aliasing or other obvious distortions. The ~40kHz bandwidth is not required to capture the 10-12kHz range of the piano but is usefully occupied by the ƃugelhorn and trumpet. PM









LEO SIDRAN; Aparté AP177; Alma Records ACD92972; Bonsaï/Nardis Music 798576509828

The centenary year for Charles Gounod (best remembered for his Faust ballet score) brings this Ƃrst recording of all Ƃve of his known string quartets to be played on gut-stringed instruments from 1839-81 – which inevitably brings a certain thinness of tone. (In fact, the catalogue offers only one alternative: the A-minor with the Silzer Quartet, from 1968.) I say ‘known’ as the chronology of Gounod’s compositions in that medium and their history of performance is still a tangle – only one was published, and that as ‘No 3’. The Golden Galerie of the Banque de France was the venue for these 2017 productions, where there’s not much image depth. If the cello placing sounds odd it’s because he sits next to the leader, then (l-r) viola and second violin. These are all absorbing works, though heard blind I doubt if you’d guess the composer, or even the nationality. CB

Well, there’s no denying that this debut album from Cuban singer, songwriter and percussionist Brenda Navarette has plenty of impact, not least because it’s recorded very hot indeed, and fair leaps from the speakers. Misgivings about the recording’s hi-res provenance and limited dynamic range aside, there’s no denying that Navarette’s brand of Afro-Cuban style is sunny, captivating and exceptionally enjoyable: she has an attention-grabbing voice and, as you might expect, the percussion is prominent in the mix, defying the feet to stand still. There’s a lot going on here, notably in tracks such as ‘Anana Oyé’, with the result that the sound can become a bit thick. But then up pops Navarette’s take on Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’, and the smile of recognition becomes a grin as the music takes off in unexpected, purely latin directions. Huge fun. AE

What’s not to like? An album of songs by the great Michael Franks by drummer turned all-round Jazz Good Thing Leo Sidran, son of Ben. Opening with a slick, funky take on ‘Monkey See Monkey Do’, Cool School is much more than a covers or tribute album, rather giving a fresh perspective on some superb songwriting, clever lyrics and irreverent humour. Clearly an ofƂcially sanctioned project – Franks himself turns up as guest vocalist on the title track – the set beneƂts from Ƃne musicianship throughout, with a lengthy list of contributors despite the fact that Sidran himself sings both lead and backing, plays drums, guitars and bass and a range of keyboards. Oh, and vibraphone, just for good measure. Yes, this is one of those ‘levels up, dynamic range down’ exercises, but the quality of the performances means the overall affect is slickly enjoyable. AE

Sound Quality: 80%

Sound Quality: 80%

Sound Quality: 75%

Gounod: String Quartets (96kHz/24-bit, FLAC)









- 100


This 96kHz Ƃle clearly illustrates the bandwidth of violin, viola and cello, their harmonics reaching out to around 25kHz30kHz, albeit 80dB below the level of the fundamentals. Dynamic range is excellent and there’s only some slight aliasing. PM

Mi Mundo (192kHz/24-bit, FLAC)*








Cool School (88.2kHz/24-bit, FLAC)


- 100


The sleeve notes say ‘Recorded in High Res’ and while it’s recorded at high level (excessively so) and will light the 192kHz LED on your DAC, the backing mix looks to be recorded at a higher sample rate than the main vocals at 44.1kHz. PM









- 100


Every track on this album is recorded super-hot and most show aliasing artefacts along with high levels of (analogue) noise, but there are evidently two sessions here – trks 1, 3, 5, 9 being Ƃltered ~30kHz [black trace, above]. PM

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 93


Energy transforming equipment


Poseidon offers a tremendous level of performance and an almost limitless set of options. One option in particular is the ability to now Ground each channel of your amplifier, via the negative speaker terminals, while simultaneously and independently being able to Ground your Pre-amp or Dac at the same time. This option alone offers an unrivalled level of performance yet to be attained in any other single Entreq Ground box. So , we invite you to seek out excellence by exploring Entreq .


01234 924242

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Lambi Golo

Soulbeats Records SBR05; LP: SBR104

After 40 years together, Senegalese duo Toure Kunda are back with their umpteenth album, still sounding very much like the youthful, vital world music innovators they were back in 1980. With guests including Carlos Santana and Manu Dibango, this album overƃows with rippling, undulating African rhythms and drum patterns that challenge listeners not to dance, overlaid with the beautiful vocals of the band’s founders Ismaïla and Sixu Tidiane Touré. Standout tracks include the soulful ‘Sene Bayo’ and the pulsating ‘Sotolal’, but the album works best as one single entity, an energising bath in positive grooves to be enjoyed in one long sitting. They’ve laid low for a decade, but Lambi Golo should put them back on top. JBk

Sound Quality: 95% 0









- 100



Cadiz Music CADIZCD159

Twanky Records TWR 00158

The indefatigable Prior is best known as the singer of folk stalwarts Steeleye Span, but this is her second album with accordionist James and The Carnival band’s multiinstrumentalist Lewin. Happily, although very different from her Steeleye releases, this is a compellingly enjoyable album, in which most of the songs are about birds and our relationships with them, and with nature. As musicians they’re all exemplary, and Prior remains in good voice, with an enjoyably diverse range of songs and instrumentals which although rooted in tradition, also incorporate contemporary ideas and values. If you love folk, dive in. JBk

After arriving in a blaze of glory with his early ’80s cult Paisley Underground band Green On Red, Dan Stuart’s solo career had a much lower proƂle, but he keeps on keeping on. He now lives in Mexico City and this album, which accompanies his novel of the same name, is the third in his series of Marlowe Billings discs. Billings is an imaginary character who some observers consider to be simply an alter ego for Stuart himself but, regrettably, although the notion of a trilogy of albums with an accompanying book sparks the imagination, Stuart simply sounds tired and bored throughout, especially on the dreary and repetitive ‘Tucson’. At best, competent. JBk

Acclaimed as a singer-songwriter for over two decades, Judith Owen has often included cover versions in her live performances but, rather than just using them as safety-net crowd-pleasers, she delights in transforming unlikely songs into vehicles for her particular performance strengths. Finally, to the delight of many, she’s released an entire album of those quirky covers. As you’d expect, songs like The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ and the old chestnut ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ suit her perfectly, but the real fun comes with Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ and Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’, which Owen transforms into perfect piano ballads. JBk

Sound Quality: 85%

Sound Quality: 70%

Sound Quality: 90%

The Unfortunate Demise Of Marlowe Billings


Park Records PRKCD153









- 100









- 100










- 100

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 95

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Membran 234482 (also 2 LPs: 234483)

Smoke Sessions Records SSR-1801 (also 2LPs: SSR-18011)

Resonance Records RCD-1026

Ten years and six albums ago, saxophonist Timo Lassy’s band grew out of the Helsinkibased Five Corners Quintet, which had caught the wave of dance-ƃoor jazz. By adding Greek-born keyboardist George Kontrafouris and percussionist Abdissa Assefa to the Five Corners rhythm team of Antti Lötjönen and Teppo Mäkynen, Lassy created his own Ƃnely-honed quintet. But here you also get the Ricky-Tick Big Band brass led by another Five Corners alumnus, trumpeter Jukka Eskola. Guest vocalist Joyce Elaine Yuille takes us ‘Harlem’s Way’ and rapper Paleface offers social comment in ‘Trouble’, yet this smooth, superbly-crafted set is easy on the ear from end to end. SH

For this title and cover the pianist chose Emily Carr’s 1935 painting, ‘Scorned For Timber, Beloved Of The Sky’, where a single tree stands in the devastation of clear cutting. Vibes master Steve Nelson and bassist Peter Washington both appeared on Rosnes’ 2016 album Written In The Rocks, but this time her quintet is completed by saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Lenny White. The title track is a powerful statement, while on a more personal level, she dedicates ‘Rosie’, the tune that Bobby Hutcherson wrote for his wife, to the memory of those two friends. But the band can also let rip, as with the well-named closer, ‘Let The Wild Rumpus Start’. SH

The Romani guitarist was only 12 when he recorded Questions on Irish drummer David Lyttle’s Lyte label in 2010. Appearances at Ronnie Scott’s and Montreux led to management by Quincy Jones and a selftitled Verve album, involving a host of name musicians and featuring Gregory Porter and Roy Hargrove. But with The Quest we’re really hearing Varady’s own band and music. Joining father Bandi on bass and young brother Adrian on drums are Slovak saxophonist Radovan Tariška and US pianist Benito Gonzalez. And while they both get plenty of solo space in a set of boisterous originals, Varady is as breathtakingly superBenson-ish as ever. SH

Sound Quality: 85%

Sound Quality: 85%

Sound Quality: 80%

Lassy Moves




Beloved Of The Sky






- 100





The Quest





- 100









- 100


Alobar AL1001

Here the brilliant Italian pianist launches his own label and takes another opportunity to highlight his enduring love of Brazilian music, mainly offering his own sprightly and engaging tunes but with some superstar guests who bring their own. We hear legendary singer/ guitarists Caetano Veloso and Joao Bosco, and there’s a typically zippy contribution from bandolim virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda, who appeared with Bollani on their 2013 duo album O Que Sera. And as with Carioca (2008), Bollani enjoys wonderful support from the Brazilian rhythm team of Jorge Helder, bass, Jurim Moreira, drums and Armando Marçal, joined this time by a second percussionist, Thiago da Serrinha. An uplifting and delightful album. SH

Sound Quality: 90% 0








- 100

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 97


Early Hours MSMSACD128*

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Symphony No 4/Lohengrin: Act 1 Prelude Leipzig Gewandhausorchester/Andris Nelsons DG 479 7577 (downloads up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

When Ƃrst exposed to No 4, the ‘Romantic’ Symphony (Klemperer conducting), I thought it was a dreadful piece of music – Beecham too complained that Bruckner was all unresolved ‘Ƃts and starts’. And in a way I can understand that teenage reaction, although today I revel in hearing the work. And Nelsons clearly revels in conducting it, the opening horn motif emerging from near silence, the brass resplendent throughout and the Ƃnal culmination of the work magniƂcent – that motif binding everything together. The sound is rich and it makes the VPO/Abbado [DG, 1990] sound washy by comparison. The 1965 BPO/Jochum is another distinguished DG option for No 4. CB

Sound Quality: 90% 0








- 100




Freiburger Barockorchester

Düsseldorfer Symphoniker/Adam Fischer

Federico Colli

Harmonia Mundi HMM 905272 (downloads up to 96kHz/24-bit res)

AVI Music AVI8553390 (downloads up to 48kHz/24-bit resolution)

Chandos CHAN10988 (downloads up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Simon Heighes, in his invaluable booklet note, explains that here Handel capitalised on the fact that after the failed Jacobite uprising many guardsman instrumentalists became redundant, and these six- or sevenmovement Concertos (‘for wind choirs’) would make use of them. But also the music was written to go with his oratorios, etc, introduced at the Covent Garden season of 1747-8, and he even ‘trailed’ bigger works by borrowing and re-orchestrating material from them. Recorded at the Teldex Studio Berlin in 2014, the playing – period instruments, of course – has a splendour and exuberance that Ƃts perfectly. CB

Adam Fischer has a large discography, notably the Haydn Symphony series for Nimbus, but he’s not as high proƂle as his younger brother Iván. This is Vol 3 in a live-sourced Mahler Symphony cycle with his German orchestra (Principal Conductor since 2015). Tonally the Düsseldorf SO is no match for the best European orchestras but they clearly respond to him. The recorded sound is decent except that the off-stage band is faded down far too much; musically the trio of (ii) strikes me as unacceptably contrived, while (iii) brings awkwardness at around 8m. So not a ‘keeper’, I’d say, although the CD was praised elsewhere. CB

Gold medallist in the 2012 Leeds Competition, the Italian pianist (now 30) is newly signed to Chandos, making his debut in Sonatas only three of which are duplicated in the two excellent Sudbin BIS discs. But Colli takes a very different approach – and he’s deƂnitely not offering keyboard wizardry of the Horowitz/ Michelangeli kind. Instead, and grouping the pieces under ‘chapter headings’ (‘The Power of Illusion’, etc) he thoughtfully explores the expressive possibilities of these pieces, compellingly varying dynamics and timings in repeats. He receives a beautifully clean recorded sound at Potton Hall. CB

Sound Quality: 90%

Sound Quality: 70%

Sound Quality: 90%

Concerti a due cori, HWV332-4







Symphony No 1



- 100




16 Keyboard Sonatas






- 100









- 100

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 99

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Andrew Everard Reviewer/writer

Andrew Everard has reviewed consumer electronics for over 30 years and is still effortlessly enthusiastic about new developments, discovering new kit – and music

All-weather audio? Is hi-Ƃ seasonal, with the summer lure of the great outdoors dragging us away from our listening until the long nights draw in again? Sitting on a plane, Andrew Everard considers his options


hose at the coal-face of the hi-Ƃ industry will tell you there is a deƂnite selling season: it begins as the nights start to draw in with a vengeance, and tails off with the Ƃrst shoots of long summer evenings in the ofƂng. All of which is understandable, I guess, but it does mean that our systems get a lot less use in the summer months, and more to the point a lot less musiclistening happens. OK, I’ve done my fair share of slaving over a hot valve ampliƂer as the outside temperature nudges above the mid-20s – and I used to review room-heating plasma TVs – so I get why we’d rather be out in the sunshine, not indoors listening. But a couple of recent experiences set me thinking about how to keep on enjoying the music as the holiday season looms – after all, when you’re reading this the schools will have broken up.

COOL RUNNING The Ƃrst was spending some time when reviewing a recent ‘cool running’ amp during a recent warm snap, and wondering where in the system the highpitched whine had just started up. After the usual ‘turn it all off and troubleshoot’ thing, I discovered that the tiny fan in the slimline amp, not in use at the time, was quite literally shrieking as it struggled with the warm conditions.

ABOVE: DAC in pocket po ocke cket ket – iF Audio’s iFii A udio’s compact xDSD USB DAC/headphone amp [[HFN N Jul ’18]

RIGHT: Shanling’s tiny, ultra-portable M0 touchscreen digital media player features an all-aluminium body and offers a claimed battery life of 15 hours. Shanling is distributed in the UK by www.

The other was more enjoyable: sitting on a plane on the way to a meeting, my hand holding the tiny Shanling M0 personal music player, which makes all others of its kind look positively gargantuan. Measuring just 40x45mm and 13.5mm thick, with the only control in evidence being a single knob for volume – it also has programmable click functions – this little machine is milled from a solid lump of aluminium, available in a choice of colours and has a responsive (if minute) touchscreen for control. It will play anything up to DSD 128 using an ESS Sabre DAC, features both aptX Bluetooth and Sony’s LDAC variant, and can act as a DAC for your computer or a source for your USB DAC. All that for just £99, and small enough to Ƃt in the case provided with my Snugs in-ears – that was what got me thinking that I really must carry my music with me more often. Yes, with the tiny Chinese-made Shanling you have to do that on microSD cards, meaning you can carry up to 512GB of music onboard at any one time, but of course this means the dedicated could carry an entire library in a space even smaller than the player itself. Mind you, a microSD card of that

capacity is going to cost you at least as much as the player, if not rather more – and good luck with the labelling… The bigger picture is that the market is now awash with high-quality ‘pocket hi-Ƃ’ equipment, from excellent earbuds to the likes of the Astell & Kern range, iFi Audio’s Ƃne DACs and amps, and of course the innovative Chord Electronics Mojo [HFN Jan ’16] and Poly. Or is that Mojopoly?

PROPER HI-FI Their fans will tell you that these little pocket devices – of which the Shanling is by far the smallest – can be plumbed into your proper hi-Ƃ, where they’ll match the quality available from more conventional sources, and even show many a clean pair of heels. I wouldn’t go that far, though I do intend to do some more listening if ever time presents itself. But I think it’s safe to say that the latest personal digital players and earphones have made it easier than ever, and more affordable, to take great sound with you when you travel. So, if you’ve been dreading that ‘school’s out’ moment, and the inevitable summer listening hiatus, then that might well be of some comfort.

‘The market is now awash with quality “pocket hi-fi” equipment’

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 103


Breaking radio silence... This month Barry Fox has news on the state of DAB. Are we now looking at a switch-over driven by the interests of radio listeners rather than one mandated by the mandarins at Whitehall?


n 2010, Ed Vaizey was appointed government minister responsible for TV and radio, and was thus the man who would oversee the FM switch-off already planned by Whitehall. Soon after, he came to a press event on London’s South Bank. I managed to speak to him directly and suggested that he leave his ofƂcial car in the garage for a day and try Ƃtting a DAB receiver to one of the millions of older cars that had been sold – and which were still being sold – with factory-Ƃtted analogue radios and analogue frequency aerials. His advisers were clearly annoyed at my intrusion but Vaizey looked interested. Soon after, and for who knows what reasons, he had put the FM switchoff on hold until over half of all radio listening in the UK was digital.

ANGRY VOTERS The 50/50 milestone has just been passed. But it includes all kinds of digital listening, by home Internet radios, digital TVs, satellite and computers, as well as DAB. Vehicles are still being sold with analogue radios. The FM switch-off is still being kicked down the road by politicians who see no reason to risk angering voters in cars and vans equipped with analogue radios. Ed Vaizey was replaced as the UK’s Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries when Theresa May took over as Prime Minister from David Cameron. This prompted over 150 senior Ƃgures from the arts and creative industries to write to the Daily Telegraph newspaper expressing their thanks for his service. So when the UK’s Digital Television Group recently held its Annual Summit in London, the DTG booked Vaizey – rather than his grey replacement – to give a keynote speech.

When the DTG introduced him as a UK government minister who had ‘stood down’, Vaizey immediately reminded us that he had not ‘stood down’. ‘I was sacked. On the 14th of July 2016 at 5.37pm,’ he said, grinning. ‘As I am no longer bound by the OfƂcial Secrets Act I can say things I could not previously say,’ he beamed, before telling us how he had canned the plans, hatched by a previous Labour government, to force the switch from FM to DAB. ‘If I had followed that policy the UK would have switched off analogue radio in 2015,’ he said. ‘But I thought “there is no way I am going to walk into that trap” – mainly because of cars and the fact that some people have around 25 analogue radios in their homes and will shout very loudly indeed. ‘The industry seems content with a hybrid system [analogue and digital radio side by side]. It allows them to launch new services and experiment with them. There’s no doubt in my mind that digital radio is here to stay and will become more and more prevalent in the consumer’s home. I think the hybrid system will remain with us until we have an organic switch-over, driven by the consumer. The UK’s digital TV switchover was driven by the consumer and the availability of ƃat screen TVs. ‘The tech sector always says that politicians don’t understand technology,’ he continued. ‘My answer to that is that it’s not a politician’s role to understand technology: it’s a politician’s role to reƃect the concerns of civic society and to challenge the tech companies.’ As an example of this, Vaizey recounted his early dealings with the UK’s video and music companies: ‘When I started in this industry every movie was being pirated and downloaded. Now

‘“Now, your average music industry mogul is loaded”’

ABOVE: Ed Vaizey, former Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries

what’s happened in reverse is that the new platforms can make astonishing proƂts. The music industry took a very naive view over piracy. Ten years ago they were saying “this is it, we are dead, dead, dead” and they kept telling me “the only way to save us is to pass laws and start arresting teenagers in their bedrooms for downloading music illegally”.

BUYING THE DRINKS ‘I never had to legislate because the music industry found a way to use old fraud laws to block pirate sites. But what made the big difference was that the music industry caught up, with sites like Spotify, Apple and Deezer, that are easy to use and reasonably priced, and caught on. Now, your average music industry mogul is loaded. Stuffed to the gills with cash. If you go into a pub or bar they are the ones who are buying the drinks. ‘The best way to combat abuses is for government to co-operate with industry to let legitimate services spring up,’ he concluded. ‘You have to deal with the world as it is, get the biggest platforms on board and have a partnership between technology and politicians, to get civic society what can be reasonably expected.’ Which makes me wonder – why was Vaizey sacked?

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 105


A need for standards ‘The great thing about standards is there are so many to choose from’ goes the old joke, but when it comes to the difference between the audio and video worlds, Barry Willis isn’t laughing


ave you ever wondered why high-res video displays have such a consistently good look? From handheld smartphones to giant ƃat-panels, image quality is remarkably high. Of course, there are differences from brand to brand and from model to model, differences that are signiƂcant to technophiles but of little concern to typical consumers. Video quality today is astoundingly high across the entire category. One can’t say the same for the audio industry, whose product offerings are so vastly different that comparisons are sometimes comical – pipsqueak minimonitors and gigantic tower speakers in the same category, for example. The audio business is like a dog show in this regard, with teacup Pekinese parading in the same arena with massive St Bernards.

STRICTLY DEFINED Contemporary video delivers such consistently high quality because the video industry has standards for every aspect of performance: strict deƂnitions for colour, brightness, black level, etc, and strict engineering standards for cabling and signal processing. There is an industry-wide organisation devoted to this purpose: VESA, the Video Electronics Standards Association ( There is no serious counterpart in the audio world. Basically, anyone can slap a couple of drivers in a box and call it a loudspeaker or solder some connectors on repurposed wire and call it a ‘high-performance interconnect’. Start-up companies and established players alike can make the most outlandish claims for the most ludicrously ill-conceived products and no-one, not the Consumer Electronics Association nor the Audio Engineering

RIGHT: Many of us who have archived CDs onto a hard drive will have encountered the issue of inconsistent playback levels. The author has found that differences in loudness between one recording and another can be 15dB or greater

Society nor your favourite online hi-Ƃ guru, will step up and call their bluff. It’s as if we expect the magic power of the free market to separate the good from the bad, the ugly, and the ridiculous – at enormous cost to our credibility and to consumers’ pocketbooks. Imagine if there were some simple basic standards that every manufacturer had to adhere to in order to bring his wares to market: standards for cable parameters and output power, frequency response and dynamic capability. I am not suggesting governmental supervision, but a voluntary organisation devoted to pulling the audio industry up by its bootstraps so that it might enjoy some self-respect and some market respect too. The last time anything like this was tried was LucasƂlm’s offshoot THX. Originally established to ensure that movie houses met some basic performance standards, THX then expanded to a testing-and-certiƂcation programme for home theatre equipment, wherein manufacturers had to submit samples of ampliƂers, loudspeakers, etc, to the testing organisation. If the samples passed, the submitting company won

‘Anyone can slap some drivers in a box and call it a loudspeaker’

the right to put the THX logo on their gear. Criticised by some as an attempt to make all audio gear sound alike, THX certiƂcation was actually, in the beginning at least, a well-intentioned effort to bring some sort of order to the Wild West of audio. Its emergence was proof that there was a need for standardisation, even if the standards encompassed wide margins.

NIGHT MODE There is still a desperate need. A small example: in digital audio there is no standard playback level. Anyone who has ever archived CDs onto a hard drive has encountered this problem. The difference in loudness can be 15dB or more from one recording to another. It would be a simple matter to insert a bit of code at the head of each track that alerts downstream circuitry about peak and average levels. Some DVD players had a version of this called ‘night mode’ that compressed dynamics to prevent awakening the neighbours with loud sound effects. Those who remember the days of analogue tape recording will recall we had 0dB as a reference recording level, +3dB for headroom, and –10dB to set bias and frequency response. Today it seems that standards even that simple have gone by the wayside.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 107


Jim Lesurf

Science Journalist Jim Lesurf has spent a lifetime in audio, both as an engineer at UK hi-Ƃ company Armstrong and reader in Physics and Electronics at St Andrew’s University

Bubble and strife The customer is always right, but if we aren’t allowed to consider the options, how can we make a choice? Jim Lesurf urges big corporations to consult with consumers when making changes ’ve recently been involved in a number of discussions that have sadly been symptomatic of the behaviour of many large organisations. One of these exchanges has been with someone who works at various recording studios and has centred around the ways some releases are processed before they are sold. The best known example of this processing is the way pop and rock material is often grossly level-compressed and clipped. The response to my questioning conƂrmed my fear that many inside large music companies share an ‘in the bubble’ mindset, which sees them isolated from mere customers.


RIGHT: The BBC has now withdrawn the option of watching 1280x720 content at 25fps leaving the option of a 1280x720 version at 50fps with 320k AAC audio. Fine if you have a robust broadband connection without a data cap, but not such welcome news if you don’t


problem. So what went wrong, and why didn’t the people mastering the CDs at the time notice the issue and Ƃx it? Again, I drew an unhelpful response. People bought the CDs, so the discs must be Ƃne. This experience echoes the one I have had while trying to discover more about a recent change to the BBC iPlayer. This has affected the TV side of things, but it can also affect the quality of audio people receive. Before the second half of April this year, iPlayer video was being generated with a resolution of 1280x720 at 25fps. This was in addition to a version with the same resolution at 50fps. Various other lower resolutions were provided for those using the iPlayer on mobile devices with small screens. But now the 1280x720 version at 25fps is no longer offered. The good news here is that the BBC has continued to provide various different ‘quality’ levels in parallel. But the catch is, how many viewers realise this or even know which version they are now receiving? The change was apparently based on comparison tests, again a good sign. But the outcome is a puzzling one.

The key sign of a ‘bubble mentality’ is an absolute conviction that ‘this is what customers prefer’. I’ve repeatedly asked those in the know whether two versions of a CD have been released – one compressed and clipped, the other not – to enable the public to choose for themselves which they prefer. I have yet to receive a speciƂc reply. Rather, I am simply told that those inside the bubble already know what the CD buyers want. Yes, people may buy the CD, but all that tells us is that, given no alternative informed choice, they really want the music. It doesn’t prove that they all want compression. To know the true answer to the question, we’d need to allow consumers to compare the different versions of a CD and make their own informed choice. I then asked my contact about some CDs (many classical) released by one large company during the 1980s. These suffer with a digital ƃaw called monotonicity errors (see HealthCheck/CD.html) yet most other CDs made back then don’t have the

‘Why didn’t the people mastering the CDs notice the issue?’

The best quality TV iPlayer streaming format is the 1280x720 version at 50fps with 320k AAC audio. But this typically requires about double the streamrate of the 25fps alternative. And the BBC’s own standards documents indicate that the BBC’s standard input is 25fps, anyway! The 50fps version means that in order to access the best quality, users now have to download more data at a higher rate than was required for 25fps. Not good if you have a usage ‘cap’ or a lot of ‘contention’ on your connection in the evenings. It can save the BBC money to remove formats it thinks won’t be missed, but I do wonder if it could have saved even more money by promoting the 25fps version. The total loading on its systems may have reduced as a result.

DETAIL MATTERS I’ve been told that in comparison tests, a lower resolution mode – 720x540 – ‘looked better’ than the 1280x720 version at 25fps that has been lost. The test was done using material such as EastEnders. But would programmes like The Sky At Night, where detail matters, have produced a different outcome? Do you need to be an audiophile to know that choosing the right source material is crucial when comparing systems?

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 109

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Steve Harris

Contributing Editor Steve Harris edited Hi-Fi News between 1986 and 2005. He loves jazz, blues music, vinyl and vintage hi-Ƃ and anything that makes good music come to life

New hands on deck Two of hi-Ƃ’s oldest and most famous turntable brands recently came under new ownership, albeit in very different circumstances. Steve Harris salutes the longevity of the vinyl LP...


aybe less apocalyptic than that 1964 movie, but Seven Days In May this year brought two epochal events in the world of analogue audio, when both Garrard and Thorens came under new ownership [HFN Jul ’18]. Thorens, which was set up in Switzerland in 1883, claims to be the oldest hi-Ƃ company in the world still producing today. Garrard can look back, indirectly, to the early 18th century, when its original parent company was established in London and appointed as Crown Jewellers. By 1950, Garrard was making turntables, arms and pick-ups that would play the new microgroove records, and the Garrard 301 was launched in 1953. In Switzerland, from the 1940s on, Thorens had been building professional disccutting lathes as well as home turntables and autochangers. The classic Thorens TD124 was introduced in 1957.

HARD TIMES But there were big changes and hard times ahead for both companies. After a Ƃre in 1958, Garrard borrowed factory space from Plessey. In 1960, Garrard became part of the expanding Plessey group. From 1967 on, Garrard’s SP25 sold by the thousand, but competition from Japanese makers became too strong.

ABOVE: From 1957 – Thorens’ TD124 motor unit, pictured here with an SME 3012 tonearm

In 1979, Plessey sold Garrard to the Brazilian telecoms company Gradiente, and the UK operation was wound down to a small development team. And the story of Garrard since then is the story of Loricraft Audio, set up by Terry O’Sullivan in 1990. He’d been collecting and restoring 301s and 401s for years, and spent much time with the residual Garrard team at Swindon. After this closed in 1995, he talked to Gradiente and was granted a licence to use the Garrard name, allowing him to launch the Garrard 501 in 1997. Now, Loricraft, with the expertise of O’Sullivan and his colleagues, continues as a one-stop shop for 301/401 enthusiasts under the auspices of SME, which has also bought the Garrard name outright from Gradiente. In Switzerland, the year 1963 saw Thorens merging with Paillard SA of St Croix, but this partnership ended after three years. Thorens products were then being distributed worldwide by Thorens-Franz AG, a company set up by EMT Wilhelm Franz of Germany. In 1966 Thorens-Franz AG took over the turntable business completely and moved production to EMT at Lahr, in the German Black Forest region. But by 1981, the company was going under, forcing a further reorganisation in 1983 that separated Thorens from EMT’s pro audio business. Thorens production continued in Germany through into the 1990s. But in 2000 Thorens was obliged to Ƃle for bankruptcy. After this, thanks to Heinz Rohrer, the brand was revived. Rohrer, who had worked in the international dutyfree business, set up his Thorens Export company to distribute the products, but found that the German factory making the turntables would no longer supply, as

ABOVE: Garrard’s 301 transcription turntable from 1953 with its Ƃne speed control knob

they had not been paid. Rohrer paid the debts for Thorens so production could continue, and as security took shares in the Thorens brand name.

NEW DESIGNS Eventually, by 2003, Rohrer became the sole owner and was able to rebuild the brand. But because of the bankruptcy, he had to start from scratch, commissioning and manufacturing new designs, rather develop existing products. Now Heinz Rohrer has passed the brand he successfully re-established to its new owner: ‘Gunter Kürten is a very experienced and successful industry insider,’ he says. ‘Thorens will be in good hands and ready for future challenges.’ It’s remarkable that the vinyl LP, launched 70 years ago, has already lasted a couple of decades longer than its predecessor, the shellac 78. And this despite the fact that, unlike the 78, it’s been surrounded and overtaken, and theoretically obsoleted, by competing formats. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that two of the most famous record-player brands have reincarnated once again. We can only wish them well.

‘The factory would no longer supply, as they’d not been paid’

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 111

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Coates tales ELGAR AND ERIC... OR WAS IT ALBERT? Correspondents express their own opinions, not those of Hi-Fi News. We reserve the right to edit letters for publication. Correspondents using e-mail are asked to give their full postal address (which won’t be published). Letters seeking advice will be answered in print on our Sound Off pages, but due to time constraints we regret we’re unable to answer questions on buying items of hi-Ƃ or any other hi-Ƃ queries by telephone, post or via e-mail.


THANKS HFN FOR YOUR SOUND SUGGESTIONS Having bought an Exposure 3010S2D integrated amp I wrote to Sound Off asking for some speaker recommendations to match it [HFN Nov ’17]. Adam Smith replied with a number of suggestions, including Monitor Audio’s Silver 8, and the B&W 683 S2 [HFN Nov ’14]. Having reviewed the pre/power version of my Exposure amp – the 3010S2 units – using PMC twenty.24 speakers [HFN Dec ’14] he also said that if my budget could stretch to it, I should also audition the £2200 PMC twenty.23s. To cut a long story short, I listened to all the suggested speakers, but when it came to the PMC twenty.23 it was a no-brainer. You know when you hear the ‘right one’. Yes it has a different presentation to other loudspeakers

ABOVE: PMC’s twenty.23 loudspeaker. For more see

ABOVE: Bass player Jack Casady on stage in 1967 with Jefferson Airplane

I have heard. It’s not flashy in its sound, but the way it handles vocals is wonderful. The midrange is not full of glare and hectoring (meaning fatigue-free listening over the long term) and the taut bass is just a joy. Jack Casady’s bass with Jefferson Airplane has been a revelation, fast and very tuneful, for example. PMC’s build standard is exceptional with no gaudy (visually) mis-matched drivers competing for the eye or ear. I am now trawling through my collection of music. These loudspeakers are so addictive. Thank you Adam and Hi-Fi News from a very happy reader. Steve Hollingbery, via email Adam Smith replies: Thank you for your kind words, Steve, and I’m glad I was able to help guide a music lover to a satisfactory destination. Both the Exposure 3010S2D amplifier and PMC PMC twenty.23 loudspeakers you have are very user-friendly and, individually, will perform admirably in a wide variety of systems. But I remember being struck by just how well they worked together. I apologise if I overstretched your budget a little bit, but as you’ve found, sometimes it’s worth it!

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As much as I enjoyed reading Christopher Breunig’s ‘Classical Companion’ feature on Sir Edward Elgar in the July issue, someone should tell him that it was Albert Coates and not Eric Coates who was responsible for using up valuable rehearsal time before the first performance of the Cello Concerto. According to Michael Kennedy in his book, Portrait Of Elgar, Mr Coates at that time over-ran by an hour in his rehearsal of a work by Scriabin, meaning that the orchestra, the LSO, could not properly get into the new cello work. Cliff Millward, via email Christopher Breunig replies: Oops… Wrong Coates and thank you, Mr Millward, for pointing out this slip. Elgar collected the 78s of music composed by Eric Coates – he was also a distinguished viola player, and described in his autobiography how Sir Thomas progressively cut the score of Elgar’s First Symphony while on tour with his Philharmonic Orchestra (in which Coates was then playing) to little more than 35 minutes! As a member of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra he often played under Elgar’s baton. BBC Radio 4 listeners can hear Coates’ By The Sleepy Lagoon most Sundays and Fridays, of course. (See also www.





Just for the record


I have just read the review by Andrew Everard of the Mark Levinson No523 preamp [HFN Jun ’18]. It’s unusual that it remains in the analogue domain, which I prefer. Not only does adding a DAC to an amp increase overall costs but sooner rather than later the DAC will be superseded, no matter how up to date it is. DACs should be kept out of the box. Back to Andrew’s review. I keep turning the page thinking have I missed something important about this particular product. In short: what is the phono stage like? After all, if Mark Levinson has included a phono stage in a £16,000 preamp it can’t be that bad... or can it? I can’t see that Paul Miller took a look either. It appears that Andrew Everard only used digital playback when conducting the listening test. Ashley Trafford, via email Paul Miller replies: The key difference between Mark Levinson’s fully-fledged No526 preamp [HFN Dec ’16] and the ‘analogue’ No523 [HFN Jun ’18] is the former’s proprietary ‘Precision Link’ DAC module. This is based around an ESS Sabre DAC, has a choice of three filters, offers a selection of ‘Normal’ or ‘Wide’ PLL digital input lock tolerances, uses seven separate power supplies and can

handle file formats up to 192kHz/32-bit in addition to DSD128. OK, but Ashley is an analogue guy... The modular design of Levinson’s amps allows its engineers to tailor the available features, so its ‘Pure Phono’ option is not only available in the No526 and No523 but is also forms the key upgrade to its big integrated amp – now in No585.5 guise as demo’d at CES 2018. Of course, when the ‘Pure Phono’ module first appeared it also heightened expectation that Levinson would follow with its own turntable. The No515, built in collaboration with VPI, was featured as an exclusive on the cover of HFN Oct ’17. The performance of the ‘Pure Phono’ in the No523 is as I described in our review of the No526 – its user-configurable 50680pF input capacitance (MM), 20ohm47kohm input loading (MC), +40dB to +70dB gain options and 2nd-order/15Hz infrasonic filter all accessible via the front panel setup menu. On the whole I prefer the sound of Levinson’s ‘Pure Phono’ module without the subsonic filter, although its contoured LF response does rather feed the already rich and boisterous quality of my SME 20/3/Series V/Koetsu Black front-end! So the sound is slightly warm but leadingedge notes remain agreeably taut and there’s plenty of detail resolved in the broad and deep soundstage to engage the mind as well as the heart.

Can a £39 insect make all your CD iles sound better than Hi-Res? Yes and no: Using the same equipment and a quality DAC, a 24/96 ile (for example) will always sound better than a CD 16/44.1 ile … but, even a single JitterBug will often allow a CD ile to be more musical and more emotionally stimulating than a Hi-Res ile without the beneit of a JitterBug. Noise is the problem. Real noise— the kind you can’t hear directly. Most often, the word “noise” is used to describe tape hiss or a scratch on a record, but these sounds aren’t noise; they are properly reproduced sounds that we wish weren’t there. Problem noise is essentially random, resonant or parasitic energy, which has no meaning. It can’t be turned into discrete sounds, but it does compromise signal integrity and the performance of everything it touches. JitterBug’s dual-function lineconditioning circuitry greatly reduces the noise and ringing that plague both the data and power lines of USB ports, whether on a computer, streamer, home stereo or car audio front-panel USB input. A single JitterBug is used in between devices (i.e., in series) as shown below. For an additional “wow” experience, try a second JitterBug into another USB port on the same device (such as a computer). Whether the second port is vacant, or is feeding a printer or charging a phone, JitterBug’s noise-reduction ability is likely to surprise you. No, the printer won’t be afected—only the audio! While a JitterBug helps MP3s sound a lot more like music, high-sample-rate iles have the most noise vulnerability. Try a JitterBug or two on all your equipment, but never more than two per USB bus. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

ABOVE: The Mark Levinson No523 preamp – seen here atop the No534 power amp – features a phono stage with user-selectable gain, loading settings and an infrasonic Ƃlter

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Why is there a focus in the HFN lab reports on the power output of amplifiers and, in relation to that, the power input of loudspeakers? Since both are voltage amplifiers or voltage transducers, the power is a result of the applied voltage by the amplifier or the load presented by the loudspeaker. Also, the musical information is stored in the voltage level, not in the power level. So why is this important? If the power drops by a factor of two due to loading, this does not look good, but the voltage ‘only’ drops by a factor of 1.4. This is still a significant amount, but not as dramatic as the twofold power drop suggests. The second, but related issue, is that the measurements of the power (voltage) output of amplifiers tested in HFN are done with a hidden variable. Please allow me to explain: the output power of the amplifier is measured both statically and dynamically with a fixed load – let’s take 8ohm and 4ohm as an example – and a fixed distortion level. I assume the input level of the amplifier is not fixed. During the measurement the input level is increased or decreased until the fixed distortion level is reached, correct? In real life this is not possible because the amplifier doesn’t ‘know’ when the loudspeaker’s impedance drops. So the reaction on different loads is probably much more severe than the measurements suggest. Joost Plugge, The Netherlands Keith Howard replies: To get speakers out of the way quickly, there is no focus in our lab reports on the power input of loudspeakers. The only reference to power is oblique: we specify sensitivity (voltage sensitivity) at an input level of 2.83V, which is equivalent to 1W into 8ohm. We use this because it is an industry standard. Were we to use, say, 1V instead, the result would be no more (or less) valid but it would make comparison with specifications and other measurements needlessly more difficult. Audio power amplifiers are usually intended to act, as far as practicable, as voltage sources. In other words, for constant input voltage they should deliver

ABOVE: Near-Ƃeld bass measurement of a speaker in Keith Howard’s listening room

constant output voltage regardless of load impedance. There are two ways in which a change in loading will result in a halving of power output. The first is a natural consequence of voltage source behaviour: if the load impedance doubles, output voltage is maintained but output current – and therefore power output (voltage x current) – halves. The other represents a failure of voltage source behaviour: load impedance is reduced and the amplifier cannot maintain output voltage because it is unable to supply sufficient signal current. This, of course, is what testing into progressively lower impedances is about: to discover where output current limitations curtail voltage source behaviour. Measuring power output capability with progressively reduced load impedance, for a given distortion level, is a valid way of doing this. Claims of 100W into 8ohm and 200W into 4ohm with the same input level will hold with a true voltage source, and some power amplifiers achieve this behaviour, to a close approximation, to impedances lower than 4ohm. How they will behave into a complex loudspeaker load depends, of course, on the exact nature of that load (and of the signal): not merely the speaker’s (usually) frequency-dependent modulus of impedance but its frequency-dependent impedance phase angle as well since this affects instantaneous power dissipation in the output devices. This isn’t simple to quantify in a generalised way because each speaker is different but the EPDR (equivalent peak dissipation resistance) that I measure in our loudspeaker tests goes at least some way towards this.

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In the May 18 issue, reader Phil Jesson offered his opinion on closed-box versus reflex speakers, inspired by the review of the ELAC Adante AS-61 in the February issue – a rather unsuccessful attempt, it seems to me, at wringing bass out of a small speaker using ELAC’s version of the bandpass system. This is because the AS-61’s sensitivity is almost as low as that of an LS3/5A, and bass is not much deeper. I wholeheartedly agree with Phil Jesson. Having 40 years of experience in listening, like him, I have small speakers, large speakers, both reflexloaded and closed box, and invariably the closed-box designs sound better in the bass, having an even, taut delivery that gradually declines into inaudibility. They sound fast and tight and of-a-piece, whereas the reflex boxes sound slow, bloated and disjointed, like a car with punctured wheels (driven by a drunk driver). I strongly disagree with the reflex box solution as it robs music of its impact and drama. And I am at a loss to figure out how the buying public fails to hear this – and hi-fi journalists too. True, the reflex box does have certain theoretical advantages, but as an engineer at SEAS once pointed out to me, only if you apply just a couple of watts. In practice, reflexing does more

ABOVE: Sonus faber’s SeraƂno Tradition – not exactly high on reader Stig’s speaker wish-list

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harm than good, and the engineer in question admitted he preferred the closed box. The increased sensitivity the approach affords, for example, is overrated, and is effective over a narrow band only. The reflex solution is all too often used to increase the amount of upper bass, at the expense of the deep bass, which I would prefer. My Sterling LS3/6 uses a 7in bass driver in a 40 litre reflex enclosure. It is not especially efficient and neither does it go loud. I strongly feel that a larger bass unit in the same cabinet, but closed, would do a much better job. You cannot cheat with loudspeakers. Keep them simple to avoid problems. The more complexity you add, the worse the speaker will sound. The closed box is the simplest solution and also the best sounding. On the KEF LS50 [HFN Jul ’12], why didn’t the company keep it closed, respecting the legacy of the original LS3/5A? Now it’s broken. I won’t even consider it. As for the issue of overly bright speakers – ‘don’t get me started’ as reader Phil Jesson said in his letter – you must be deaf to accept them. Peter Walker of Quad was once quoted as saying ‘for a loudspeaker to sound natural, it needs to decline with rising frequency at a rate of 1.5dB per octave’. Look at the test of the Sonus faber Serafino Tradition in the February issue of HFN – it costs £17,988 yet the company cannot even get the frequency curve correct. I wouldn’t have this speaker for free. Thank you for allowing me to air my opinions.. Stig Arne Skilbrei, Norway Keith Howard replies: When I measured a pair of Rogers LS3/5As for HFN back in 2008 they had a pink noise sensitivity of 82.5dB (just 0.9dB shy of the Adante AS-61) and bass extension of 67Hz for –6dB ref 200Hz, half an octave higher than the Adante AS-61’s 46Hz. Which, given the difference in cabinet size between the two speakers, does indeed seem like little in the way of progress. But this is before you listen to them. I always thought the LS3/5A uninspiring, to put my dislike at its most polite – like every Bextrene-coned loudspeaker I’ve heard, including the Spendor BC3 and KEF 105.2. Whereas the AS-61, I’m told by people whose opinions I trust, sounds very good indeed.

ABOVE: KEF’s reƃex-loaded LS50 with its rose gold coloured two-way Uni-Q coincident array

As for the KEF LS50, I measured its sensitivity as 84.1dB and its bass extension as 42Hz – figures which justify its use of reflex loading. And it sounds a whole heap better than the LS3/5A ever did, however rose-tinted your spectacles. This doesn’t mean I have no sympathy with Mr Skilbrei’s preference for closed-box bass loading – actually, I do. But I’m also a realist. A loudspeaker designer has a lot of factors to juggle and it’s no surprise that reflex loading’s benefits to sensitivity and/or bass extension are attractions which many find impossible to resist. And sensitivity is not just a numbers game; other things being equal, speakers which are more sensitive usually sound better. Plus there are subtler factors at work here. Putting a hole in a speaker’s cabinet is generally regarded as a bad thing to do if you can avoid it because it acts as a conduit whereby internal reflections and resonances can escape the enclosure. Indeed, this is one reason to use an auxiliary bass radiator (ABR), as the AS-61 does. But there is a subset of speaker designers who find that venting has a positive (if not entirely understandable) effect on sound quality, and I’ve had direct experience of this myself. Have you ever wondered why Wilson Audio speakers have ports in their midrange enclosures? I’ve never asked Daryl Wilson why but I’d be surprised if one reason is not that it just sounds better. As for rising treble output, there are justifications for that too. If you don’t toe the speakers in, you’ll hear less treble as a result of listening off-axis while benefiting from a closer correspondence of the spectra of the direct sound and first side wall reflection.


I read Ken Kessler’s Off The Leash column in the June issue on analogue versus digital and I agree. On a good system, both formats, when well recorded, can make me sit up in my listening chair. But there is one nonaudio factor that is a significant plus when it comes to the CD format. Lost LPs are hard to find, often quite costly and, due to their rarity, are not always available to many of us. At first, CDs were expensive due to the high cost of the new plants built to manufacture them. But the actual cost of producing CDs is not so dear and way less than that for an LP once a master tape exists. There is no need for master discs and pressing discs, etc, and slow stamping machines. So once plant costs were amortised, CDs became dirt cheap to make. And after a few years, with lots of new plants, there was idle time to fill. If a tape master existed, small numbers of old music recordings could be produced for peanuts. I first realised this about two decades ago. I was at the Princeton Record Exchange in New Jersey – an excellent shop for old vinyl – and just for kicks I picked up an album by Joanne Kelly, who turned out to be an astoundingly good British blues singer. I played it and fell in love with her performance. I returned to the store looking for more of her albums but was told there were few available. For years I searched in vain for more. I used to hang out at the Melos factory, a deceased manufacturer of tube gear, especially noted for triode amps producing hundreds of watts. I’d mentioned my search for Joanne’s music many times to the guys there. One day I arrived and they said

they had a surprise for me. It was a couple of Joanne Kelly albums on CD, brand new releases of some of her old albums. Over the next few years more and more of Joanne’s previously unobtainable work became available at regular CD prices. This could only have occurred with CDs, not LPs. Since then, every now and then, I surf the Internet in search of oldies from niche music groups I loved from my past. I often find them. Thank the audio gods for CDs. Allen Edelstein, USA Ken Kessler replies: Well said: the cost of pressing LPs today mitigates against reissues that may not break even. I am constantly surprised, though, by indie labels such as Sundazed, which presses obscurities like Ultimate Spinach LPs, or even certain majors. Universal just reissued the Left Banke on vinyl (as did Sundazed, years ago). CDs? Archival lifesavers, digital vs analogue be damned.

I enjoyed Barry Fox’s Opinion in the June issue. I remember buying my first CD player in the mid ’80s and it sounded awful! In fact I sold it just a few weeks later and went back to vinyl. But I haven’t given up on CDs and agree with Mr Fox that Red Book CD can deliver a darn good sound. I wonder which CD player Mr Fox has? Ray, via email Barry Fox replies: I’ve been through quite a few, but still routinely use the one I bought at the height of the SACD/DVDAudio pantomime – a Denon DVD-2910. The drawer open-close mechanism now needs a bit of hand-help, but who cares? For Blu-rays I use a Sony PS3, but seldom play and never buy BDs.


ABOVE: A Fox favourite – the Denon DVD-2910 universal player released in 2004

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Technics EPC-205CMK3 MM cartridge Launched in 1979, this MM pick-up was the most advanced of its generation yet gained little more than cult status among audiophiles. Bygone or icon? It’s time to Ƃnd out... Review: David Price Lab: Paul Miller


he 1970s saw a great leap forward in LP record reproduction. At the beginning of the decade, most turntables were rim driven or relatively unsophisticated belt-drive designs, and sported tonearms of high effective mass tracking low-compliance cartridges – these generally magnetic or even ceramic in design. Pick-ups of this period muscled their way through the record groove at tracking forces of up to 5g, sometimes more. This was deemed necessary to keep the ‘needle’ on the straight and narrow.

WARP FACTOR For this reason, the race was on to reƂne record players to a point where they were mechanically quieter, more speed-stable and could be equipped with superior tonearms capable of tracking lower-mass cartridges with more compliant cantilever suspensions. These cantilevers would be able to ride warps better, without skipping or provoking the tonearm into vibrating. The Holy Grail was a pick-up cartridge that sat securely in the groove using just a couple of grams of downforce – or even less – as this would overcome the most common drawbacks of vinyl replay. After all, poor and often warped pressings, and record groove wear plagued many music lovers’ lives back then, because the vinyl LP was effectively the only mass music carrier around. More important than any hi-Ƃ

ABOVE: User manual for the EPC-205CMK3 illustrates the core technologies including TTDD (Technics Temperature Defence Damper) suspension and samarium-cobalt ‘moving magnet’

considerations was that the wider world was waiting for a way of playing records reliably that also reduced wear. By the mid ’70s, things were moving on apace. In 1974 Shure introduced its new M75ED MM cartridge, which it claimed could track securely down to 0.75g, even if in truth it was far happier at its 1.5g recommended maximum. Ortofon’s VMS20E was another new MM, showing far greater compliance than its predecessors. SME then launched the Series III tonearm in 1978 as one of the Ƃrst arms optimised for lower mass, higher compliance MMs – and won a British Design Council Award for its trouble. It

perfectly caught the zeitgeist – the future, it seemed, was ever lighter tonearms and cartridges, tracking at fractions of a gram for minimal record wear. In truth, most tonearms of the latter half of the ’70s were not of particularly low effective mass, but the trend was certainly moving that way and few people at the time ever envisaged things turning back in the other direction.

GOING UNDERGROUND Sadly though, by the time the Technics EPC-205CMK3 arrived in 1979, they were. In all hi-Ƃ’s major world markets, from the UK to Japan and the USA, the late ’70s saw MM cartridges begin to fall from favour – at least as far as the high-end was concerned. Moving-coils, with their output often just one-tenth that of a moving-magnet design, complex internal construction and nondetachable stylus suddenly became all the rage. Magazines waxed lyrical about the breed’s magical sound, and this allied to their high prices gave them great cachet. LEFT: This EPC-205CMK3 variant has an integrated aluminium SME-style headshell; the EPC-205MK3 is the standard bodied version and the EPC-205IIIL was made for lower mass arms

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LEFT: The integrated headshell/arm lift offers numerous advantages – it aids precise alignment with subtle adjustment of overhang and, naturally, can be quickly swapped in or out

However, due to their low compliance, these new MCs didn’t track well in the near-ubiquitous lowish effective mass SME tonearms of the day, and so a new generation of big ‘battleship’ arms arrived – such as the Linn Ittok LVII and Zeta – to enable the MCs to give of their best. Faster than an ageing boy band, MM cartridges were losing their hi-Ƃ sex appeal and many audiophiles began to think of them simply as something you buy before you can afford an MC. The Ƃckle hand of fortune did not augur well for the new Technics EPC205CMK3, then. Costing a quite modest £69 – half the price of a Supex MC – here was surely the most advanced MM cartridge of its generation, engineered to offer superlative sound. Yet suddenly the world wasn’t listening. In many ways, it was just as advanced – if not more so – than the new generation of MCs, with a host of

innovative features. Yet it was like trying to sell progressive rock albums to punk rockers – moving-magnets were now far too déclassé. This explains why what is indisputably a great pick-up – both by the standards of its day and now – never really became the legend that it deserved to be. Made when the vinyl LP was at its peak as a format, by a great innovating Japanese company at the top of its game, the EPC-205CMK3 would prove to be a complete underachiever in terms of sales. In designing the cartridge, Technics engineers had Ƃxed their sights on making an extremely fast, clean and accurate MM. They believed that key to this was an ultraresponsive cantilever and highly effective suspension system. To this end, the new pick-up sported a stylus/cantilever/magnet with an effective moving mass of just 0.149mg, which was just one sixth that of

‘This cartridge rewards when used in highend systems’

the company’s Ƃrst ever modern MM – the EPC-200 of 1968 – and under half that of its 1973 EPC-205CMK2 predecessor. The cantilever was fashioned from a single crystal boron pipe – a key factor in combining both lightness with stiffness – while the stylus itself was an extended line contact/elliptical type with minor and major radii of 7’m and 20’m, respectively. The disc-shaped moving magnet was fashioned from a samarium-cobalt alloy and was stabilised by a single-point, backtensioned pivot. Part and parcel of this carefully designed suspension system – dubbed the Technics Temperature Defence Damper, no less – was a special polymer compound claimed to maintain a stable frequency response, compliance and tracking ability over a wide range of ambient temperatures.

REPLACEABLE STYLUS On paper at least, the EPC-205CMK3 turned in a staggering performance for its day, the company claiming a rulerƃat frequency response of 20Hz-15kHz (–0.5dB) and an overall response of 5Hz to 80kHz. Again, this is largely down to the light boron tube cantilever and the ‘vital’ stylus ensuring a very low overall moving mass. Incidentally, unlike its MC rivals, this stylus assembly was easily replaceable – the part number being EPS-205ED3. Other notable design features included Technics’ precision-ground, mirror-Ƃnished HPF pole pieces in the electromagnetic generator system – said to give a ƃatter frequency response and improved stereo separation. The compact shape of the bridge yoke structure also allowed for a smaller cantilever length – another factor in the quest to reduce moving mass. Prospective purchasers of this cartridge could choose between standard ½in mounting bodies and the integrated headshell EPC-205CMK3 version you see here. There was also a low-mass EPC205IIIL version that was built for the Technics SL-7 and SL-10 compact parallel tracking turntables. This version sported a lightweight diecast aluminium headshell, LEFT: Pages from HFN Dec ’80 when the Technics EPC-205CMK3 was tested against moving-coil alternatives including the Dynavector 20B II and Ortofon MC20II

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with visco-elastic damping to reduce resonance. To deal with the different tonearm lengths it would Ƃnd itself working in, both overhang and azimuth are adjustable – the neat screw clamping system makes setting-up very easy compared to trying to align a conventional cartridge in a standard slotted headshell. The proƂle of the product helps here too – it’s not too bulky and has no abnormal protrusions, and the Ƃnger-lift is satisfyingly large and tactile for those of us who like to hand-cue their vinyl.

UNDER THE RADAR Overall compliance for the combined cartridge and headshell is quoted at a moderate 12cu at 100Hz, and its 2.0mV claimed output voltage is respectable for that period, albeit a little low by today’s standards. Technics recommended that the EPC-205CMK3 be tracked at between 1g and 1.5g, with the suggested force being in the middle [see PM’s Lab Report, p123]. The Technics EPC-205CMK3 received excellent reviews at the time, even though the hi-Ƃ world’s collective gaze had shifted to the new breed of MCs. However, in the UK at least, popular ampliƂer manufacturers were producing plug-in preamp cards to accept the low output voltage of the new MCs, making these more practical ownership propositions. And this was despite the fact that the EPC-205CMK3 had many advantages over similarly priced movingcoils – not least a userreplaceable stylus and the lack of need for a potentially expensive moving-coil phono preamp. For this reason the EPC-205CMK3 slipped under the radar

ABOVE: E: Original packaging with the £69 price tag and d [right] the gold section of the EPC205CMK3 MK3 is a fully detachable stylus/cantilever assembly. bly. Replacement was the EPS-205ED3

of many ny audiophiles – something that might not have happened had it been launched hed on to the market just a year or two earlier. arlier. The result is that it has become hing of a cult cartridge – loved by something those ‘in the know’ while being almost etely ignored by those that aren’t. completely

DAVID LISTENS Thankss to its universal SME-style headshell mount, t, this cartridge is easy to install on any suitably-equipped turntable and/or tonearm. To wit, it found itself in a variety of decks from a Sony PS-8750 and Pioneer PL-600 to a Michell GyroDec Ƃtted with a rewired Rega R200 and even Technics’ new, ultra high-end SL-1000R [HFN Jun ’18]. I have known this cartridge for many years and have always been struck by its clean, sweet,

‘You hear the thrash of the band and panrolling drums’

open character. There’s often a degree of dewy-eyed, sepia-tinged nostalgia about vinyl, but here is that mythical warm and expansive sound – right in front of your very ears. Its nature is quite unlike today’s moving-magnets, or indeed yesterday’s. Were I forced to commit to comparing it to something modern, at a push you could say an entry-level Lyra moving-coil. What you get is a very well deƂned, high-resolution sound – one that covers all the hi-Ƃ bases so very well – yet it has an eerie, romantic quality to it too. Yes, in absolute terms, it’s a little soft by modern standards, yet actually the more you listen, the more you know that the detail is all there, it’s just that it isn’t rammed down your throat. Indeed this cartridge really rewards with high-end systems. Lesser ampliƂers and/or speakers will cloud or indeed simply waste its Ƃne detail away. What’s really needed is a top-class turntable, feeding a truly able system that can make hay with what the EPC-205CMK3 evacuates from the groove. Take a record released right at the time that this MM came out – The Crusaders’ ‘Street Life’ [from Street Life, MCA Records MCF 3008]. This is a beautiful recording made at the very peak of the analogue era, and with it this cartridge just sounds sublime.

WHITE GOLD The two greatest traits of this pick-up are its sweet tonality and stereo soundstaging. Put these together and you’ve a cartridge that serves music up in a delightful way. The recorded acoustic of The Crusaders track sounded vast, with instruments wide stage left and stage right, while inside it sat Randy Crawford’s beautiful voice. Its LEFT: 38 years apart – vintage meets state-ofthe-art in our photograph of the EPC-205CMK3 mounted on the arm of Technics’ ƃagship SL-1000R direct-drive deck [HFN Jun ’18]

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 121



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timbre was arresting, sparkling with harmonics that shone out of the recording in a vibrant and tangible way. And the presentation of her vocal boasted Ƃne intimacy and presence too. Better still, the cartridge is so fast that you felt the tingling, electric nature of her performance. There was no sense that things were being slowed down or compressed. This innate speed makes for a very intimate and expressive sound, with great dynamics and emotional force. Yet this pick-up’s great reƂnement means you’re not listening to the sound of a cartridge struggling to keep its needle in the groove – it’s relaxed and composed at all times. Give it a rowdier recording, such as Blondie’s ‘Union City Blue’ [from Eat To The Beat, Chrysalis CDL 1225], and the presentation loses just a little of its outright force as the cartridge errs on the side of politeness. But you still hear that great voice of Debbie Harry with all its fragile, icy beauty – plus

all the thrash of the band, with those layered guitars and panrolling drums. Attention is drawn to the silkiness of the ride cymbals, which sound like they’re tinged in white gold rather than cold, steely gunmetal grey. You’re left loving the bouncy, supple bass guitar line and the wonderful way that it stands forward from the rest of the mix, occupying its own space. The Technics EPC-205CMK3 may not be able to boast the sheer clarity and low-level detail retrieval available from its pricier moving-coil rivals, but it certainly wants for none of their charm.

When we Ƃrst reviewed the EPC-205CMK3 back in HFN Dec ’80 the author, Martin Colloms, noted that the exceptionally ƃat and extended HF response of a pristine pick-up had changed with use, ‘the response now tilting gently down from 5kHz to measure –1dB/10kHz and –2.5dB/20kHz’. The uncommonly low moving mass, rigid boron cantilever and exquisitely polished and mounted diamond – all key features of this iconic MM – lead me not to doubt Technics’ claims for a 20Hz-15kHz ±0.5dB (15Hz-60kHz ±3dB) response. Nevertheless our vintage sample measured very much closer to the original ‘run-in’ HFN sample of 38 years ago with a slight presence/treble boost of +0.5dB (lateral cuts) allied to rolled-off treble of –1.5dB/10kHz falling to –5.5dB/20kHz (vertical cuts). This suggests a marginally centrefocused soundstage [see Graph 1, below]. This mild generator asymmetry was also reƃected in its higher vertical distortion of 3-4% through bass and midrange versus 0.6-3% in the lateral plane (all –8dB re. 5cm/sec), but the trend is nonetheless impressively low compared with many modern MCs [see Graph 2]. Output was fractionally lower than the speciƂed 2mV at 1.7mV (re. 1kHz/5cm/sec) but the channel balance was on target at 0.7dB and separation good for the era at ~28dB through the midrange. Tested at the recommended 1.3g downforce, the EPC-205CMK3 tracked securely up to the 70’m band, just breaching 1% THD at +18dB (re. 315Hz/5cm/ sec). Its 22-24cu dynamic compliance is also a little softer than the rated 12cu, though mirroring our 1980 results precisely, and aiding tracking with medium effective mass tonearms. VTA was textbook stuff too at 22o. PM

RUN OUT GROOVE These days it’s still possible to Ƃnd a decent sample of an EPC-205CMK3, because many were sold around the world – although do expect to get it rebuilt and/or give it a new stylus assembly for optimum performance. Prices start at just £200 or so for a good, boxed example. Buy carefully and/or get it rebuilt, and you’ll see why those who have them tend to hang on to them.

ABOVE: Frequency response curves (–8dB re. 5cm/ sec) lateral (L+R, black) versus vertical (L–R, red)

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT The Technics EPC-205CMK3 was one of the most technologically advanced MM cartridges of its decade and remains to this day a worthy choice. Its combination of reƂnement, detail and speed is quite special, giving a sound that’s more often associated with high-end MCs. As such, it makes a great secondhand buy, although the usual caveats apply as classic cartridges don’t suffer mistreatment well.

Sound Quality: 85% ABOVE: Compact linear-tracking SL-10 turntable used the ‘P-mount’ 205CMK3









- 100

ABOVE: Lateral (L+R, black inƂll) and vertical (L–R, red) tracing and generator distortion (2nd-4th harmonics) vs. frequency from 20Hz-20kHz (–8dB re. 5cm/sec)

HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS Generator type/weight

Moving-magnet / 16g (complete)

Recommended tracking force

1.0-1.3mN (1.3mN)

Sensitivity/balance (re. 5cm/sec)

1.70mV / 0.7dB

Compliance (vertical/lateral)

24cu / 22cu

Vertical tracking angle

22 degrees

L/R Tracking ability

70Şm / 70Şm

L/R Distortion (–8dB, 20Hz-20kHz)

1.4–5.2% / 0.70–7.2%

L/R Frequency resp. (20Hz-20kHz)

–3.6 to +0.6dB / –4.0 to +0.5dB

Stereo separation (1kHz / 20kHz)

28dB / 25dB

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 123


Stereo arrives! Stanley Kelly reports from the 1957 London Audio Fair on the Connoisseur stereo system while editor Miles Henslow introduces the Fair in pictures RIGHT: First ever photograph taken of a combined hill-and-dale and lateral (stereo) recording, as cut by A R Sugden of Connoisseur. The photomicrograph is by Cecil Watts. Another of Watts’ photographs is shown below on the July 1957 cover (left), this time of a cutter ploughing an unmodulated groove through an acetate disc, forcing swarf upwards

Hi-Fi News May 1957 Each month HFN will bring you an article from our vast archive of features and reviews from yesteryear


e have come to associate invention [writes Stanley Kelly] and especially the development of inventions into commercial realisation, with teams of white-coated scientists, hordes of mathematicians and millions of pounds of equipment ensconced in marble mausoleums. Once in a decade the lone inventor, by sheer tenacity of purpose and faith in the ultimate realisation of his dreams, confounds the experts and succeeds where the others have failed. We think of the pioneers such as J L Baird, for television, H J Leak, P J Walker and G Briggs and a small band of enthusiasts who made hi-Ƃ and the vast industry being built around it possible. Mr A R Sugden can be counted among this elite group. He produced the Ƃrst transcription turntable in this country, and has maintained a lead in this Ƃeld ever since.

HILL AND DALE It was Blumlein who, in 1929, made the original disclosure of dual recording by simultaneous hilland-dale and lateral modulation of the record groove, and since then we have heard with monotonous regularity that this type of system was about to make its debut. But it was not until the BSRA exhibition of last year that Arnold

124 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

lacquer master is then processed in the normal manner and the pressings at Ƃrst sight present a similar appearance to that of normal commercial records. The pick-up follows the same philosophy, in that a cantilever stylus is used to separate the two motions and to apply them to two individual crystal elements. The output of each crystal is thus directly proportional to the movement of the stylus in its own particular direction.

CROSSTALK Sugden demonstrated a successful, combined lateral and hill-and-dale recording and reproducing system. This was using lacquer discs.

THE WORLD’S FIRST We naturally expected some advances in technique to be made over the past year, but we were staggered on listening to his demonstration at this year’s Audio Fair to be confronted with the world’s Ƃrst complete range of commercially available equipment, including pick-ups and records, not just ready for demonstration but in the Ƃnal stages of production. The stereophonic recording is Ƃrst carried out on tape, and then transferred to disc by a twin movingcoil recording head on a standard Connoisseur recording machine – one coil operating the stylus in a lateral direction while the other one moves the stylus vertically. The two planes of motion are completely decoupled mechanically. In other words, reaction of the lateral on the vertical motion, and vice versa, are reduced to an absolute minimum. The

The separation between each channel (referred to as crosstalk) is of the order of –25dB, which is more than adequate over the frequency range of 30Hz to 12kHz used. This cross-talk refers to the whole system, including recording, processing and playback. The output of the pick-up is 20mV per channel, and it can be fed directly into the preampliƂers of normal hi-Ƃ equipment – two ampliƂers and loudspeakers being necessary, of course. The recording characteristic is RIAA, and because the stylus radius is 0.001in, the ‘lateral element’ can be used as a high-Ƃdelity transducer for normal LP records, allowing the equipment to be used at will on either stereophonic or normal records. The duration of recording is the same as for a normal LP record and we understand the price will be about 50/- including purchase tax (this, of course, compares very favourably with stereophonic tapes, which are considerably more expensive). The pick-up will retail in the neighbourhood of 18 guineas. Thus, in order to produce a stereophonic system, the only additional equipment required will be one special pick-up, one ampliƂer and one loudspeaker. We congratulate Mr Sugden on what is a very material advance in the art of high-Ƃdelity.

‘We were staggered on listening to A R’s demo’


he contents of this number of Hi-Fi News [writes editor Miles Henslow] deal largely with the London Audio Fair, which is still running at full pressure as this column is written. For the thousands of our readers

overseas, and those in the more remote parts of the United Kingdom who were unable to attend the Fair, we hope that the method we have adopted for reporting the event will provide a useful picture of it. For those who were able to attend,

we hope that the combined report of our contributors and advisers will be of similar value, as a form of recapitulation of what was shown and demonstrated. Our own experiences with fairs and exhibitions have always made

TOP: Visitors to the 1957 London Audio Fair queue in the sunshine outside London’s Waldorf Hotel for the second day FAR LEFT: The audio pioneer A R Sugden discusses single-groove stereo with a visitor to the Fair LEFT: Mr Erwin Sharf (far right) head of Goldring. On the stand is the company’s new 600 cartridge FAR LEFT: Mr Livingstone (left) with Mr Haines, general manager of Tannoy LEFT: HFN editor Miles Henslow (left) talks to an exhibitor. Miles founded HFN in 1956 and was editor until 1965 FAR LEFT: Gilbert Briggs (centre) of Wharfedale talks loudspeakers with Stanley Kelly of HFN (right) LEFT: Mr and Mrs Chave of Lowther smile for the camera while surrounded by TP loudspeakers

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 125


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us wish for some comprehensive, unbiased summary that would enable us to think backwards over the many things we saw and so set into proper perspective those items which were examined with a fresh morning eye, and those which were skimped at the end of the

day, as the legs and the brain grew weary. It was with this thought in mind that we briefed our reporters, individually, to make a complete preliminary tour of the show, with eyes for only the range of equipment which each was to discuss. We hope that the result will represent a fair

summary of the Audio Fair and will be of service to our readers. We also hope that we shall not be taken too severely to task for devoting so much space to this annual event. We have heard criticism from several quarters that some of the equipment on show was not hi-Ƃ, FAR LEFT: Mr Spark of the MSS company explains how a disc cutter works to a younger visitor LEFT: Designer of Decca’s audio equipment – Mr George Tillett. He would later write for Hi-Fi News FAR LEFT: Mr John Walker (left) of the Acoustical Manufacturing Company awaits the Ƃrst arrivals LEFT: Friendly rivals – Harold Leak (left) and Acoustical Manufacturing’s Peter Walker FAR LEFT: Miles Henslow (centre) listens intently to Mr R H Hacker of Dynatron Radio Ltd (far right) LEFT: Mr Hector Slade, Mr Sherman and Mr Gadsdon (l-r) of Garrard pose for the HFN cameraman FAR LEFT: Mr Northrop of The General Electric Company explains the workings of the ‘Periphonic’ LEFT: HFN scribe R S (Bob) Roberts smokes a pipe as he listens intently to a presentation of stereo

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 127

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FROM FR ROM THE THE V VAULT AU ULT and that it should not have been included. In so far as this was, in the minds of most of us, a hi-Ƃ show, we consider this criticism to be justiƂed. Nevertheless, in fairness to the organisers, it must be pointed out that the ofƂcial title which they elected for the show is the ‘Audio Fair’ – and, as such, anything from a speaking tube to a megaphone is fair game.

SHOWING THE LOT Most of the original makers of hi-Ƃ equipment make nothing else. Many of the newcomers to hi-Ƃ are already well established in the radio, radiogram and television Ƃeld. Because of this there is obviously a temptation for a manufacturer ‘to show the lot’. Our opinion here at Hi-Fi News is that this inability to draw a Ƃrm line not only tends to harm hi-Ƃ, but in the end it may well damage the reputation of those who do not stick to the point. After all, there is a perfectly good annual Radio Show at which products other than hi-Ƃ are

exhibited. We think most of the visitors to the event were able to form their own correct conclusions, as to what was and what was not, ‘hi-Ƃ’. Fortunately for the newcomer, the list of genuine hi-Ƃ dealers grows apace. And since most of those who are in doubt will visit a hi-Ƃ dealer anyway, they will soon have their doubts conƂrmed, or dispelled.

ABOVE: Original pages from the May 1957 issue of HFN in which Stanley Kelly gave readers the Ƃrst details of the Connoisseur stereo system. The cover shows a BBC engineer examining the depth of cut on a disc LEFT: Four of the Hi-Fi News team on stand 27 BELOW: HFN writers Ralph West, George Tillett and C W Morle listen to a demonstration of single-groove stereo

Also in HFN this month in 1957 PICK-UPS, TURNTABLES AND MICROPHONES Stanley Kelly reports from this year’s Audio Fair held at the Waldorf Hotel in London. TAPE RECORDERS AND STEREO James Moir brings you his picks and impressions from this year’s London event. RADIO TUNERS A round-up by R S Roberts of exhibits and equipment of interest to radio fans. AMPLIFIERS AND PREAMPLIFIERS The heart of your system – a report by H Lewis York on the latest ampliƂers seen and heard at the London Fair. WATTS AS REQUIRED Further notes on the power needed for home listening by H Lewis York. THE FAIR IN PICTURES The audio pioneers and the personalities, caught on camera during the London Audio Fair.

ABOVE: HFN Editor Miles Henslow (left) is caught on camera at the aftershow party along with Mr C H Thomas, the Managing Director of EMI Records (right)

THE SPEAKER IN YOUR HOME Part 12 of Ralph West’s extended series. MICROPHONES Stanley Kelly takes a look at moving-coil pressure types.

SEPTEMBER 2018 | www.hiƂ | 129

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PRO-JECT RPM 5 Carbon red

ARCAM 72T CD player,

turntable, Pro-Ject DS phono stage, Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge. £1400 for £950. New record cleaning system, £50. Tel: 01661 823606



remote, silver, mint £135. Audiolab 8000A, black, mint, £225. Collect or post in the UK only. Email: Tel: 07979 705644

1. ACCESSORIES OPPO PM1 headphones with three different pairs of earpads to customise the audio characteristics. Complete with Oppo’s wooden storage box. Will be posted in original transportation boxes. Excellent condition, £550 inc p&p. Email: Tel: 07549 603398.

£4500 ono. Tannoy Lancaster ƃoorstanding loudspeakers. 12in Monitor Gold drive units with the rubber suspension. Model offered circa 1971. Immaculate grille cloths and cabinets. Two previous owners. £2800 ono. Collection from Leighon-Sea. Email: Tel: 07947 122806

KEF Reference 1. Large bookshelf

EC 4.8 balanced preampliƂer by

speakers with stands, in walnut. Two-and-a-half years old. Mint condition. £2500. Can dem. Tel: 07905 348812

Electrocompanient, Vgc, £900. Tel: 07555 263931



QUAD 99 FM tuner with Quad


ATLAS Equator Mk3 1m interconnect, £60. Missing Link Alaqeia interconnects, 2x50cm £50 each, 1x75cm £75. Yulong A100 Class A headphone amp, £150. Email: Tel: 07508 035671 QED Silver Anniversary bi-wire speaker cable, Airlock Gold banana plugs both ends, 2.5m pair, £30, (RRP £109). Vgc, cash only. Tel: 020 8564 9552

4. CD/DVD PLAYERS REGA Jupiter, upgraded with digital in, to access Wolfson DAC with 44.1kHz/16-bit, excellent condition, original packaging, £499. Email: Tel: 01296 482549

AUDIO Aero Capitole MkII 192kHz/24-bit CD player for sale. Brand new, unopened box. Silver Ƃnish. Your last chance to own a brand new unit of this legendary CD player. UK dealer supplied, guaranteed brand new, never used and still in manufacturer’s sealed box. £5000. Email: jayeemmm@ Tel: 07887 885272


Link, owned from new, mint, £225. Collect or post in the UK only. Email: Tel: 07979 705644

9. TURNTABLES PRO-JECT Xtension 10 high-mass turntable with carbon Ƃbre arm, £900 (RRP £2250). Can dem. Tel: 07905 348812

THORENS TD160 Super (with original box), with Linn Basik LV X arm and Ortofon VMS30 Mk2 MM cartridge. Complete with Thorens plinth/cover. Excellent condition. £400 ono. Demo available in Derby area. Cash on collection. Tel: 01332 670999

TECHNICS SL-150Mk2 quartz synthesiser direct-drive turntable with SME 3009 arm. Realistic offers only please. Tel: 07710 453050

THORENS TD124 in teak cabinet with SME 3009 tonearm and Shure M75E v2, recently serviced. Reasonable offers considered. Photos available. Collect or can deliver London area. Email: Tel: 07947 309208

stereo ampliƂer A21 series II (serial no: A21962), Goldring Lenco GL75 stereo transcription turntable, Celestion Ditton 15 speakers – 534x235x240mm (hwd). £750 ono. Tel: 013765 62604

AVI S2000M preampliƂer and S2000MC Reference CD player. Preamp has switchable MM/MC input. Both excellent condition, complete with single remote. £600 plus delivery. Email:

12. MISCELLANEOUS GRAHAM Slee Reƃex C moving-

HI-FI Choice The Collection series from 2004 to 2011 inclusive. In-depth reviews of some of the world’s Ƃnest hi-Ƃ. £35 for the set. Collection only. Cheshire Area. Tel: 07708 431963

DCS Verdi Encore mint, £2548. Nakamichi RX505 unidirectional tape deck, £720. Music Tools ISOstatic two-shelf (27.5+38cm) £650 each. Audience Au24 interconnect 1.5m pair, mint, £450. Liveline speaker cables, 2.4m bi-wire, mint, £1305. Liveline power cord cable, 1.8m mint, three available, £495 each. Liveline power cord cable, 2m mint, £552. Email:

coil phono stage with the GSP PSU-1 upgrade power supply. Previously the ƃagship model from GSP Audio at over £700 new. Excellent value product that has incredible sound. Now upgraded to the GSP Accession MC stage. Three years old and in as new condition with original packaging. £450 ono plus postage, or collection from Leigh-onSea. Email: Tel: 07947-122806


ARCAM A29 ampliƂer, Yamaha

WORKING or non-working

CDS300 CD player, Mitchell Johnson CDD-201V CD player, Arcam irDAC-II, Marantz UD5007 SACD/ Blu-ray player. All boxed. Open to all offers. Tel: 01977 695385

Beomaster 5000 FM tuner. Tel: 01758 613790

CREEK 4140 amp, £60 cash. NAD 4225 tuner, £50 cash. Both components in good working order. Tel: 0161 483 3332

WORKING or non-working Quad 44 preamp, serial no. 23000 onwards. Tel: Mike 01758 613790

ALPS Blue or Black source-switch selector suitable for Naim preamps, 62, 72 type. Exposure preamp. Most types considered. 24V DC power supply wanted. Inca Tech Claymore wanted. Tel: 07756 271992

SONUS FABER Amati Anniversario Homage, Guarneri Memento, Amati Futura, Guarneri Evolution or SeraƂno Tradition in red loudspeakers. Still looking. Must be in absolutely mint condition and red. Tel: 01269 595271

PLACING AN ADVERTISEMENT IN THE HI-FI NEWS CLASSIFIEDS SECTION Fill in your advertisement copy here... Please write the product category number that best suits your equipment in the Ƃrst square. The product categories are: 1 – Accessories; 2 – Amps; 3 – Cables; 4 – CD/DVD players; 5 – DACS; 6 – Software (CDs, records etc.); 7 – Speakers; 8 – Tuners; 9 – Turntables; 11 – Complete Systems; 12 – Miscellaneous; 13 – Wanted We will insert the telephone number you want to appear in your advertisement(s) as many times as is needed. You only need to Ƃll it in once and it only counts as one word – even if you run multiple adverts.

GARRARD 401 chassis £749,

transmission line speakers in dark cherry, as new, £3600. Sell £1575. Tel: 07956 121013

Rega RB300 tonearm (rewired) £279, Goldring 1042 cartridge (used, boxed) £249, Plinth for 401 £199, power supply for Class A amps £300. Tel: 0207 499 8729

TANNOY Edinburgh HE

THORENS TD125 Mk2 turntable

ƃoorstanders, 12in dual-concentric drive units with tulip waveguide and hard-edge suspension. Last iteration of the Edinburgh model produced, bought new in 2002.

with SME 3009 S2 Improved arm, vgc. Contact for pics, can demo, collection only, offers invited. Email: Tel: 07564 688217

AUDAVISTA ƃoorstander

JE SUGDEN Class A integrated

132 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

Tel (to appear in advert):

Please post this completed coupon to Hi-Fi News magazine, MyTimeMedia Ltd, Suite 25, Eden House, Enterprise Way, Edenbridge, TN8 6HF, or email your advert to letters@hiƂ Hi-Fi News accepts no responsibility for description or condition of items advertised.





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LAST WORD reminded those who care about sound quality that – for many of us – LPs massacre digital. This is not the place to argue about analogue-vs-digital because the point being made was as much about physical-vs-cybersources per se as it was a vindication of Red Book CD in particular. Although one of the those defending 5in discs was a manufacturer of said discs, I’ve known him long enough for both of us to appreciate that his point about CDs was not hard sell: he also produces vinyl records. But he argued in precisely the same manner as Peter McGrath: ‘This is about sound quality, discs over streaming. Period.’


Is CD getting a raw deal? Ken Kessler ponders the appeal of the silver disc in a world set on streaming



t was a curious accusation, but a well-founded one. It came not once but four times during the Munich High End Show [HFN Jul ’18], from separate complainants. The initial assault was on the ƃight over to Germany, when friend and colleague, Wilson Audio’s roving ambassador, Peter McGrath – a true high-end audio sage and a seasoned recorder of live performances – put it to me Ƃrst. We had been discussing the decline in interest in ‘proper’ hi-Ƃ among millennials and younger. The trope, of course, is that separates hi-Ƃ is now solely the preserve of old men with beards, and that isn’t far off the mark, though my beard is long gone. If anything, there are younger elements showing interest: too few to suggest rejuvenation, but enough to provide a stay of execution. This was preceded by the obvious explanations for hi-Ƃ’s decline: the death of bricks ’n’ mortar retailers due to online selling (which has affected far more than hi-Ƃ and record-buying), the younger generation’s disinterest in physical possessions, the rise of mobile phones and tablets as do-all devices, a preference for convenience over sound quality (just look at what they’ll accept as decent headphones...) and, most stridently, streaming. We both agreed that neither of us had yet to hear anything via streaming, whatever the sampling rates, processing types, etc,

that came close to physical formats. Looking me straight in the eye, with the same expression he uses if he has to utter the word ‘Trump’, Peter said, ‘And you are guilty of not reminding your readers just how good is “red book” CD through the latest hardware’.

STELLAR PLAYERS I didn’t see that coming, though Peter was quick to point out that he meant the entire audio press, not just yours truly. He reminded me of just how fantastic CDs can sound through the latest generation of playback devices, citing such stellar players and DACs as those made by Esoteric, dCS, Métronome, Marantz, Luxman, MSB, Nagra and others of that ilk. He was absolutely correct. And he hadn’t even mentioned my favourite digital format, which is SACD. While such machines are beyond my means, I have heard them enough times (and still cherish the unimpeachable, Ken Ishiwata-modiƂed Marantz CD12/DA12) to appreciate exactly where Peter was coming from with this challenge. Over the next three days, I would face this charge three more times, the case being presented with indisputable clarity by each critic: CD, and by extension, SACD, is getting a raw deal. In part, it’s because of the LP revival. While far smaller and more contained than the publicity suggests, the revival has

‘CD has evolved from an edgy replacement for vinyl LPs’

Oct Issue

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138 | www.hiƂ | SEPTEMBER 2018

Trade Ƃgures show that CD sales are dropping like a stone. As for the even better source, SACD, it remains healthy solely in Japan to the bafƃement of hard-core supporters, despite the continual ƃow of amazing new titles. My old friend and incurable audiophile Hamish McAlpine echoed what confronted me in Munich: ‘Why aren’t you writing more about SACD?’. It was time to reƃect. On a personal level, I had long ago reconciled the LP-vs-CD (or SACD) issue because 1) post-1983, I wanted numerous releases that were only available on CD, 2) I use CDs as well as LPs for reviewing purposes, 3) I play CDs in the car and 4) I Ƃnd streaming unsatisfying. I say this even without a player of the order of a dCS or Esoteric combination, and I prefer to treat LPs and CDs the same way I would treat other duopolies that needn’t be mutually exclusive, like novels and nonƂction, or, indeed, apples and oranges. But is it too late to laud CD, given that the vinyl revolution is smaller than imagined? A recent episode of the massive hit Westworld opened with an overhead shot of a Pro-Ject deck. WatchƂnder’s TV adverts with a Pioneer PL-12D continue to be shown. LPs are everywhere because they are visually evocative. CDs are not. They hide in the player. But CD has evolved from an edgy, artiƂcial replacement for the LP, thanks to judicious work on the part of the hardware makers, who turned an ugly ducking into a near-swan. Now let’s see if they can do the same for streaming.



î Kalista DreamPlay One CD player î Emotiva XSP-1/DR2 pre/power amps î Klipsch RF-7 III floorstanders î Esoteric Grandioso P1/D1 SACD/DAC î YBA Genesis PH1 phono stage

î EISA Awards: The world’s media chooses its fave hi-fi î Vintage Review: Yamaha NS1000M loudspeakers î Classical Companion: Sir John Barbirolli î From The Vault: We crack open HFN’s archive î Vinyl Icons: Joe Jackson’s Night And Day


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