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20-Year Warranty! We review and test Bryston’s fabulous B135 SST² amplifier No 35 May/June

also Reviewed NAD PP-2i Phono Preamplifier GoldenEar Aon 3 Loudspeakers Unison Reseach Simply Italy Integrated Amplifier

2013

Whatmough Signature P15 SE Monitor Speakers

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A system puter aud vinyl and com

ARCH UNISON RESE ITALY SIMPLY

Single-ended Class-A design delivers superb sound and ality accurate ton

esoterica magazine inside!

May/June 2013 A$8.95 NZ$10.99

avhub.com.au


sharp ı ultralink ı marten

Sharp HT-SB60 Soundbar As televisions get larger, so do soundbars, and so Sharp’s latest HT-SB60 soundbar is 1.38 metres long, just the right size to fit under a 60-inch screen. ‘Big 3D TVs need big 3D sound, and Sharp’s new 2.1-channel HT-SB60 sound bar, which comes complete with a wireless subwoofer, will bring your TV to life,’ said Mark Beard, National Marketing Manager for Sharp Corporation of Australia (SCA). ‘The new Sharp sound bar was developed to enhance the large TV experience—it’s designed to fit perfectly under a 60-inch television and can accommodate TVs up to 90-inches,’ he added. The Sharp HT-SB60 is 1.38 metres long, 7.6cm deep and 6.8cm high and has two HDMI inputs and one HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC) which enables users to easily connect the sound bar to their TV. It also has analogue audio and optical digital inputs. Thanks to the inclusion of Arnis 3D Sound Solution circuitry, the Sharp HT-SB50 can give the illusion of surround sound without the need for additional speakers. The inbuilt decoder can accommodate DTS, Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic Decoder/Dolby Virtual Speaker and has DSP enhancement modes for Cinema, Game, Music, Sport, News, and Night, plus a Bypass mode. The active subwoofer that comes with the HT-SB80 gets its audio signals wirelessly, so it can be placed anywhere in the room. Available now, the Sharp HT-SB60 sells for $499 (RRP).

UltraLink XLO UltraPLUS Ultralink/XLO has released the latest versions of its popular Ultra Series cables. According to Jonathon Scull, of Scull Communications, the UltraPLUS cables are the latest, most advanced versions of the popular Ultra Series. ‘They’re manufactured with classic XLO field-balanced surface/diving winding geometry so topologically the cable has no surface or centre and frequency-related phase shift is cancelled,’ he said. ‘Very low capacitance and inductance means XLO UltraPLUS cables work with a wide variety of components. The sound is clear and neutral with tight, powerful bass and an engaging midrange with clean and extended highs: hallmark XLO sound.’ UltraPLUS cables include single-ended and balanced interconnects, speaker cables, a phono cable, coaxial and AES/EBU digital cables, and 240V power cords.

For further information, please contact Audio Active on (03) 9699 8900 or visit the website at www.audioactive.net.au

For further information, please contact Sharp on 1300 135 530 or visit the website at www.sharp.net.au

Marten Coltrane Tenor Boris Granovsky, of Absolute HiEnd, has announced the arrival of Marten’s newest three-way loudspeaker design, the Coltrane Tenor, in Australia. This new model uses newly-developed bass drivers made by Accuton in carbon-fibre cabinets whose front baffles can be made from Walnut, Oak, Maple or Cherrywood. ‘This is a fantastic loudspeaker that pushes sound reproduction to new levels,’ said Granovsky. ‘These small, elegant loudspeakers deliver performance beyond all expectations. They’re transparent, extremely powerful, have beautiful extension and an exceptional soundstage. The only thing is that because their sensitivity is only 86dBSPL you need to use a powerful amplifier.’ In addition to a sensitivity of 86dBSPL, the Marten Coltrane Tenor has a minimum impedance of 3.8Ω. Marten claims the Coltrane Tenor’s frequency range extends from 24Hz to 100kHz. The speakers retail for $89,000 per pair.

For further information, please contact Absolute HiEnd on (04) 8877 7999 or visit the website at www.absolutehiend.com

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bose ı linn ı quadral

Bose Sounddock Series III Music System Bose has introduced its SoundDock Series III, which it says was specifically designed for use with the iPhone 5, iPod Touch (5th generation) and iPod Nano (7th generation). There’s also an auxiliary input to enable the use of devices with standard headphone or line outputs. ‘Now, owners can enjoy the iconic Bose SoundDock combination of small size and full-range audio performance from any iPod or iPhone model with a Lightning connector,’ says Jade Bombardiere, of Bose. ‘An included remote control operates the system and the basic functions of the iPod or iPhone, and can switch back and forth between playlists.’ The Bose SoundDock III system will charge any docked iPod or iPhone as well as playing back stored music. Available For further information, please contact Bose on 1800 023 367 now, the gloss black Bose SoundDock III retails for $349 (RRP). or visit the company’s website at www.bose.com.au

Linn Sneaky DSM Linn’s new Sneaky DSM combines an integrated digital music player, pre-amplifier and power amplifier in the one chassis. ‘Just add speakers’ says Nigel Ng, of Advance Audio. The newest addition to Linn’s range of DSMs, the Sneaky DSM uses Linn’s Songcast App to simplify how you listen at home, letting you listen to iTunes, Spotify, YouTube and Netflix from the comfort of your sofa and also share great sound all around your home. It also has AirPlay, so you can send it music files stored on your iDevice. ‘As an all-purpose streamer, Sneaky DSM plays music from all sources at exceptional quality—CDs, downloads, online

content, internet radio—without the performance compromise of a discplaying mechanism,’ Ng told Australian Hi-Fi Magazine. ‘With inputs for all kinds of home entertainment, Sneaky DSM makes movies, games and TV all sound better than ever too. At just $3,495 it’s an exceptional value allin-one player, because customers can simply add their existing loudspeakers and plug it into their home network to start enjoying better sound from everything they listen to at home.’ The Sneaky DSM decodes FLAC, WAV, Apple Lossless (ALAC), MP3, WMA (except lossless), AIFF, AAC and OGG audio formats with up to 24-bit/192kHz native sample rate and has six inputs (RCA Phono, HDMI, S/PDIF, Toslink) for connection and up-sampling of additional sources. It’s compatible with UPnP media servers and UPnP AV 1.0 control points and can stream internet radio, podcasts and ‘listen again’ broadcasts. Two-channel power output is rated at 33-watts per channel.

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

Quadral Back in Australia! After an almost 15-year absence Quadral products are again available in Australia, this time distributed by well-known Sydney-based distributor Crestmore Pty Ltd, founded and managed by industry stalwart Ian Bultitude. ‘For more than 40 years Quadral has been renowned as one of the best and most reliable speaker brands in Germany, with first-class workmanship, high-quality materials and of course decades of experience in developing and producing loudspeakers,’ said Tim Wilkinson, Technical Service & Support Manager for Crestmore. ‘Quadral commands an excellent reputation in not only Germany but throughout the world.’ In announcing the appointment, Quadral’s Export Director, Volker Schwerdtfeger, told Australian Hi-Fi Magazine: ‘Quadral is very proud to announce Crestmore as our exclusive distributor for Australia. Crestmore has an energetic team, partnered with an outstanding strategic model to maximise the potential of Quadral products in their market. Thanks to Crestmore’s experience, reliability and trustful positioning, we believe in a very positive mutual success with this new partnership.’ Wilkinson told Australian Hi-Fi that the first model to arrive in Australia was the Aurum Titan VIII. ‘This eighth iteration of Quadral’s famous Titan design incorporates numerous new technical innovations and developments,’ he said. ‘The ribbon tweeter has been completely re-designed and re-engineered so that it now uses a far thinner gossamer-like ribbon membrane than previous models, and it’s now in even closer proximity to a pair of huge and very powerful neodymium magnets that provide the all-essential motive force. It can handle higher power than before, and delivers higher sound pressure levels. It’s also much more effectively damped at the rear. The result is that this ribbon speaker reproduces astounding music and the finest tonal details with phenomenal ease.’

For further information, please contact Crestmore on (02) 9482 3922 or visit the company’s website at www.crestmore.com.au

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ON TEST

Whatmough Signature P15-SE Loudspeakers

W

hatmough’s Performance SE (Signature Edition) loudspeakers are no-expensespared high-end designs aimed specifically at music lovers who want to extract the absolute maximum from their CDs, DVDs and high-res audio files.

The Equipment Very few loudspeaker manufacturers build their own drivers. There are many reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to costeffectiveness and innovation. The R&D cost and the manufacturing facilities required to design and build a driver mean that unless you are building thousands of identical models, it’s better to purchase your drivers from a company that specialises in building drivers. Well-known suppliers are SEAS, Scan-Speak, Vifa, Peerless, HiVi, Accuton, Fountek, Fostex, and Audax. However, when it comes to specifying drivers, these companies provide designers with varying quality levels. Swedish supplier SEAS, for example, has Lotus, Design, Prestige, Excel and Exotic series

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drivers. So when a designer is choosing, say, a tweeter, there is often has a choice between 10 or 15 very similar models, all with almostidentical specifications, but with differing levels of manufacturing quality and materials used. The least expensive of these tweeters might be available for $50 or so, but the most expensive could easily cost $1,000! So it’s pretty obvious that the tweeter you choose will have a dramatic impact on the final retail price for the finished loudspeaker system. I’m mentioning all this for a very good reason, which is that there are two different versions of the 35mm dual concentric tweeter that’s used in the the Whatmough Signature P15SE, one of which is a high-quality model made by Vifa, while the other is an evenhigher quality model made by ScanSpeak. The two tweeters look absolutely identical (at least from the pointy business end) but the performance of the ScanSpeak model is superior to that of the Vifa. So superior that it’s seven times the price of the Vifa model. Guess which ones Whatmough is using? Yep, the expensive ones. And Whatmough

uses the same tweeter in its flagship Paragon model… and given the price of the Paragon, if a better tweeter were available anywhere in the world, Whatmough would have used it! (We should also point out that although you might appear to see this tweeter on models from other manufacturers, you should be careful before making a judgement, because you could be looking at the cheaper Vifa version, or even a super-cheap Chinese copy. In regard to the use of Chinese copies, this is yet another reason for buying only well-known ‘brand name’ loudspeakers sold by reputable hi-fi dealers.) So what’s so special about this tweeter anyway? First, you can’t miss the ‘Madonna’s Bra’ phase plug! The dome is actually attached to the phase plug in order to concentrate the radiating area around the voice coil. This offers more control of the diaphragm and reduces distortion and losses that occur at the centre of the dome on ordinary dome tweeters. The phase plug also acts as a wave guide, reducing high frequency cancellation. Behind the dome is a venting system that uses a needle to reduce


Whatmough Signature P15-SE Loudspeakers

turbulence in the air cavity and rather than use ferrofluid cooling, which reduces dynamics, cooling is achieved via a system of vents and copper rings. The driver magnet is SD-2type neodymium. The bass/midrange driver in the P15-SE is rated by Whatmough at 170mm because this is the ‘mounting hole’ diameter that’s used by driver manufacturers. Our tape put the overall basket diameter at 180mm. However, the important Thiele/Small diameter is 131mm, for a useable cone area (Sd) of 135cm². The cone is formed from coated wood pulp (Whatmough calls it hybrid fibre) and is driven by a 33mm high-temp voice coil and a double magnet system that’s so large it accounts for much of the weight of the P15-SE (about which more later). The driver chassis is a fully cast frame that has been beautifully engineered in a way that maximises the radiation from the rear of the cone. The crossover network in the P15-SE is hand-soldered and point-to-pointed wired with all components mounted on a piece of MDF so that they can be firmly secured with strapping and adhesive. And what components they are! Whatmough is using custom ‘Obbligato’ Premium Gold capacitors that are made using extra-thick aluminium foil made in Germany. These ‘super-premium’ capacitors are made with extra tight windings and have no internal voids. The few resistors in the network are high-power metal film types, while the inductors are all air-cored and cross-mounted so there can be no unwanted magnetic interaction between them. Low down and centred on the front baffle is the bass reflex port. It’s made of black plastic which is flared at the exit, but not at the entrance. It’s 65mm in diameter and around 84mm long. The grille is made from black cloth stretched over a 9mm MDF frame and fastens to the front baffle using the usual plastic ‘lug ‘n plug’ connectors, but they’re oversized and very tight, so you won’t ever get any frame rattle. As you can see from our photograph, the P15-SE has curved cabinet sides. Whatmough did extensive research into cabinets and concluded that cabinets with curved walls were far less resonant and had far fewer internal standing waves than cabinets with flat walls. Another finding was that minimizing cabinet resonances via extensive bracing dramatically improved clarity and transient response. According to Whatmough—and we’d agree wholeheartedly—the sonic difference between a speaker system in a welldesigned enclosure and that same system in a mediocre cabinet is huge. You can tell how much bracing is inside the Signature P15-SE when you try to lift one… and we

mean ‘try’… because despite their relatively small size, they’re incredibly heavy. Each cabinet weighs 28kg! As with all Whatmough speakers, two sets of high-quality gold-plated binding posts are supplied so you can bi-wire or bi-amp if desired. Each cabinet measures 240×490×330mm (WHD) and is available in real Bubinga timber veneer or in a Piano Graphite finish. The recommended retail varies quite a bit depending on the finish you choose. The $4,499 per pair RRP price noted in the information panel is for the Bubinga finish, whereas upgrading to Whatmough’s famous ‘Piano Graphite’ finish commands a $300 price premium.

Listening Sessions We had to get rid of the first pair of stands we used to support the Whatmough Signature P15-SEs because their bases weren’t up to supporting the weight of these speakers! So make sure you have solid, heavy stands with very large bases. We also ‘blutacked’ the bottoms of the P15-SEs to the tops of the stands for added security. The grip the bass driver in the P15-SE exerts on the air in the room is impressive, and the speed of the driver is incredible. The result is incredibly dynamic sound, from the deepest bass right through to the highest midrange, just before the driver hands over to the tweeter. Listen to even the most heavilylayered orchestral works and the strength and solidity of the bass foundation is presented completely unfettered, with a sense of pace and ease that belies the size of the driver… and the size of the cabinet. No doubt the bass reflex port is doing its stuff, but some of this must also be due to the freedom permitted by the exposed voice coil design of the bass/midrange driver, because air cannot be ‘trapped’ under the dustcap. Listen to plucked double bass, or an electric bass guitar and you’ll hear what we mean straight away. The immediacy of the bass is magnificent. Neither could we fault the midrange. Human voice, that great revealer of any potential loudspeaker design failings, failed to reveal any at all in the performance of the Signature P15-SEs. To the contrary, we auditioned a wide selection of male and female vocalists and were impressed by every single track. The P15-SEs’ delivery of vocal nuances is exceptional, and tonality is preserved with an accuracy that had us shaking our heads. When playing live sets (Janis Ian’s Working Without a Net is a favourite) you only have to close your eyes to be right there, and the same goes for any singer or ensemble working an intimate venue like a club. As for the treble, we could immediately hear why Whatmough fell for the ScanSpeak ring radiator.

ON TEST

Its sound is clean and lucid, so the high frequencies really sparkle with freshness and light. Our only tiny quibble is that it noticeably delivers its best performance on-axis, so you should angle the speakers in to face the listening position during setup. However even off-axis the ScanSpeak’s performance is better than most tweeters manage on-axis, so it’s all a question of degree.

Conclusion Whatmough’s Signature P15-SE loudspeakers are superb transducers. For their size there are few—if any—other loudspeakers that can even approach their level of performance, and if we’re talking midrange and treble, there are few that come close irrespective of greg borrowman their size or price.

Whatmough Signature P15-SE Loudspeakers

Brand: Whatmough Model: Signature P15-SE Category: Standmount Loudspeakers RRP: $4,499 (See Copy) Warranty: Five Years Distributor: Whatmough Pty Ltd Address: 2065 Princes Highway Clayton VIC 3168 (03) 9545 5152 wm@whatmough.com www.whatmough.com • Superb highs • Midrange accuracy • Bass for size

• Best on-axis • No holes in terminals • Lack spike threads

LAB REPORT Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Whatmough Signature P15-SE should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on page 22. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/or displayed using graphs and/or photographs should be construed as applying only to the specific sample tested.

Lab Report on page 22 avhub.com.au

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ON TEST

Bryston B135-SST²

I

have just been hexed by the god of smoke. In case I’m being too obscure with this reference, I should point out that I’m referring to an old electronic technician’s joke which had it that the reason all electronic components worked was because of smoke. This was easily provable because when any smoke leaks out from any electronic component, it stops working. As for me being recently hexed by the god of smoke, I have suddenly experienced a spate of such smoke-related incidents, involving two amplifiers, a CD player, a network audio player, and two computers (one portable, the other a desktop). These incidents have been not only extremely annoying and personally disruptive, but have also caused me to become intimately acquainted with the current outrageous cost of spare parts and the equally outlandish hourly rate for electronics technicians. Having perused a few of their invoices, I was thinking about writing an apologetic letter to the surgeon who operated on me last year for having the gall to complain about the bill he sent me following my surgery. ‘So what the hell has any of this got to do with a review of the Bryston B135-SST²?’, I

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hear you ask. Quite a lot, as it happens. You see, Bryston is the only hi-fi manufacturer of which I’m aware that offers a full 20year warranty on its analogue electronic components. And if your jaw hasn’t dropped after reading that, I’ll say that again, but add a bit of bold type to the truly jaw-dropping bit: a full 20-year warranty. That is precisely 19 years longer than the average manufacturer’s warranty, and around 17 years longer than the very best of them. I once asked Brian Russell, President of Bryston, who is a regular visitor to Australia, how he could afford to offer such a long warranty and he just shrugged and told me: ‘because nothing ever goes wrong with them.’ To realise why Bryston amplifiers don’t break down you need to know that this proudly Canadian company started off (51 years ago, so they’re no babes in the woods) making medical electronics, and when you’re making medical electronics, you have to be 200 per cent certain nothing is going to go wrong! It was only afterwards that the company started building amplifiers for professional audio applications—recording studios, radio stations and the like. And although amplifier failures in these

Newport Test Labs

Integrated Amplifier

Power Output: Single channel driven into 8-ohm, 4-ohm and 2-ohm non-inductive loads at 20Hz, 1kHz and 20kHz.

applications aren’t a matter of life and death, they’re certainly mission-critical, particularly if a radio station goes off-air in the early hours of the morning, or some fabulously well-paid musicians are waiting around in a recording studio because of an electronics failure, so it’s important that professional amplifiers be completely ‘bulletproof’. How do you go about doing this? If you’re Bryston, you start with good circuit designs, then build them with the highest-


ON TEST

NAD PP 2i Phono preAmplifier

T

he vinyl LP is staging a comeback. No-one argues about that. What they do argue about is why the LP is regaining its popularity. Everyone seems to have a different opinion… even the so-called experts disagree with each other. Many say that it’s the sound quality of vinyl LPs. Vinyl certainly does sound different to CD… and digital downloads… and for many audiophiles, that ‘different’ is also better. But even the objectivists will admit that LPs have technical advantages over CDs. An LP has a more extended highfrequency response than a CD, for example, and there can be less distortion at very low levels. But for every person who trumpets the superior sound quality of vinyl, or the technical advantages of it, you will find someone else who says the reason is that vinyl is simply more satisfying, and that we lost something when we lost the huge album cover, with all those lovely images and liner notes, and at the same time lost the ritual of

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removing an LP from its cover, placing it on the turntable platter, lowering the stylus into the lead-in groove, and then closing the lid of the turntable. Then there are those who say that for people too young to remember when CDs and MP3s and iTunes didn’t exist, rediscovering a ‘lost’ music format is just a ‘cool’ experience. And for those people old enough to remember the world before compact disc, LPs bring back memories, so for these people, rediscovering the LPs they purchased when they were young is an enormously emotional and often verysatisfying experience. One other possible reason for the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl is that buying LPs can be an extremely cost-effective method of starting a music collection. This is primarily because there are thousands of people in Australia (and millions around the world) who think that old LPs are worthless… which means that if you drop by almost any

garage sale in your suburb, you will almost always find at least one or two LPs available… and very often you’ll find a whole plastic milk crate full of them. (Plastic milk crates being ideal storage ‘racks’ for LPs.) Mostly you’ll be able to buy these LPs for almost nothing, or maybe ten bucks for a whole crate of LPs. And, just in case you were wondering how many LPs fit in a crate, it’s about 125 depending on how tightly you pack them in, which means that if you buy a crate of LPs for $10, each LP has just cost you eight cents. To see how that translates if we value an entire music collection, let’s propose that a reasonable music collection would comprise around 1,000 albums. If you bought these albums in the CD format from a store, or via internet download, your collection would cost you around $25,000. A collection comprised of 1,000 LPs purchased from garage sales would, on the other hand, cost you only $80! That’s quite a saving…


No 35 May/June 2013

SOUND TRAVELS

A system that bridges the chasm between vinyl and computer audio...

Unison research simply italy Single-ended Class-A design delivers superb sound and accurate tonality


SOund TRavels

Sound Travels Edgar Kramer visits an audiophile who bridges the chasm between the latest computer audio and ye ole’ vinyl…oh, and he’s an avid lover of the synthesiser! Edgar Kramer: Do you have a first memory, a first unforgettable musical experience that left an indelible impression? Peter Smith: I’d have to say that I have many! My aunt Carole, who is only 11 years my senior, played a big role in my musical ‘upbringing’. She introduced me to my first 12-inch single (‘Street Life’ by the Crusaders followed by ‘Boogie Wonderland’) and then synth music. I remember when she’d just bought ‘Dare’ by the Human League and we were listening to it in her bedroom at my grandparents’. I must have only been about 7 years old, but I’d already been

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buying records for a couple of years—songs from ‘Grease’ and ‘The Smurfs’ mostly! But when I heard that album I remember just thinking “Wow, this is the future!” I’ve never looked back since as you’ll see by my very synth-based music collection. EK: So that may have been the seed for your hi-fi journey? PS: Yes, I was always totally fascinated by hi-fi as a kid, even though nobody in the family was an ‘audiophile’. I’d go into the local hi-fi shop at school lunch breaks to see what they had in. The sales guy always loved showing me their new gear

(which was always the high-end Technics and Marantz gear—it was the mid-80s) and I remember he absolutely stuck to playing Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’ as demo tracks. By that time I was heavily into New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Prince and Rick Astley (I’m not ashamed) and I knew that my crappy late 70s Sony combo wasn’t cutting the mustard! EK: Where do you think your system is going, or has it arrived? PS: Have you ever met an audiophile who says “This is the system for me, I’m done”? It’s always a journey that will probably never end. I think I’ve gotten close to amp perfection with the ASR, and I love my speaker and sub combo, but right now I’m thinking I have a weakness in my tonearm. Tomorrow it will be something else. EK: Your system features a super-engineered integrated amplifier from Germany the ASR Emitter. What drew you to such an exotic component? PS: It’s not “integrated”, just ask ASR! Seriously though, it was pure serendipity.


on test

Unison Research Simply Italy Integrated Amplifier

A

h yes, the Latin flair. Be it cars, clothes, furniture or hi-fi, the Italians can certainly slap together some gorgeous designs. Take a look at Simply Italy, a diminutive new integrated amplifier from Unison Research, and you’ll marvel at the exquisite aesthetics blended with simple functionality. But is there substance to the external beauty or is it all just superficial vanity?

The Equipment Simply may be in its name but this little Unison Research integrated amplifier has all you’ll need for it to be the heart of a highquality stereo hi-fi system. For starters, the quality of all the materials used is first rate, and the quality of the assembly is also first rate. The smoothly-rounded fascia (available in a full timber finish or a combination

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timber/aluminium finish) sports nicely-machined knobs—featuring adorning circular wood inserts—for input selection (on the left of the faceplate) and for volume control (on the right of the faceplate). The volume control knob is the visible end of a fullymotorised potentiometer made by Alps. A simple on/off toggle switch (again with an attractive circular wood insert) is located dead centre of the faceplate while a small window located immediately below it serves to receive commands from the supplied infra-red remote control. While we’re on the subject of remote controls, the Simply Italy features a very comprehensive unit—which obviously can serve to operate other of Unison Research’s components—with all-too-similar small buttons and gorgeously finished in timber and aluminium.

The rear panel houses the RCA inputs and outputs (three line inputs, one Tape in and a Tape out), insulated speaker posts and a fused IEC 240V mains socket. The Simply Italy’s valve amplification is based on a Class-A ultra-linear single-ended-triode circuit using a pair of the classic EL34 output valves (unusually since they’re pentode designs) to provide a claimed 12-watts ‘approximately’ power output per channel while the input stage uses a 12AU7 per channel. A chrome-plated cage prevents curious little fingers from being scalded, but as far as I’m concerned, the Simply Italy is far prettier without it. Importantly, Unison Research claims to build its own output transformers—importantly because so much of a valve amplifier’s sonic ability depends, ultimately, on the quality of its output transformer.


Newport Test Labs

The Simply Italy’s input impedance is 37kΩ, making its source compatibility just about universal, while its output impedance is rated at 6Ω, which offers reasonably wide speaker suitability (though best results will still be gained in situations where the connected speakers’ impedance does not dip too low and their efficiency is reasonably high). Further speaker matching can be achieved via the Simply Italy’s feedback adjustability. Negative feedback can be switched between a low 5dB to an evenlower 1.8dB. Unison Research says that the higher feedback setting will subtly extend the frequency response, particularly in the bass. Excessive feedback can in some situations create more problems than it can solve but 5dB could hardly be called excessive, and the Italian designers at Unison Research

Power Output: Single channel driven into 8-ohm and 4-ohm loads. [Unison Research Simply Italy]

Newport Test Labs

On TEST

Power Output: Both channels driven into 8-ohm and 4-ohm loads. [Unison Research Simply Italy]

by the pope and a variety of monarchs, as well as Austria, which ruled the regions of Lombardy and Venetia.) Rather than start the design from scratch, Unison Research’s designers based the Simply Italy on the wellestablished Simply Two, so it’s not surprising the two amplifiers share many circuit topologies (both are single-ended ultralinear Class-A designs, and both use EL34 valves in the output stage and ECC82 valves in the preamp and driver stages. However, whereas the Simply Two is a true dual mono design, the Simply Italy is what Unison Research calls a ‘Quasi-Dual-Mono’, where the power transformer and first filter stage the power supply are doubled to separate the preamp stages. (The Simply Two also has an 8Ω output tap, whereas that on the Simply Italy is a 6Ω tap.)

Performance have tailoring the feedback system in such a way that it can reap real rewards within the context of some systems. With nothing in our photograph to indicate scale, you may be surprised when you see a Simply Italy ‘in the flesh’ so to speak, because it’s not as big as you might imagine a valve amplifier to be, measuring just 260×350cm×190mm. It weighs 15kg.

Simply Italy History The Simply Italy came about by virtue of Unison Research wishing to release a new, small integrated valve amplifier to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italian unification on 17 March, 2011… hence the name ‘Simply Italy’. (If you’re not familiar with Italian history, you might not know that prior to 1861, what we now call ‘Italy’ was simply a grouping of city-states and regions ruled

Valve amplification is, sometimes justifiably but most often wrongly, associated with a sweet and syrupy sound compounded by ill-defined bass. In the case of the Simply Italy, I found that both statements were far from accurate, although there is an element of truth within… Certainly my listening impressions were that the Simply Italy presents a beautifully detailed and resolute midrange… but I also heard a good dollop of sweetness and musicality to vocals as well as to the midrange in general. Yes, these qualities correspond to strengths associated with well-designed valve amplification—although not exclusively so. I thought that in the low bass the little 12-watter did struggle somewhat when it came to absolute control and bass power, but then my reference speakers are notori-

ously difficult to drive and also cost more than ten times the price Unison Research is asking for its Simply Italy, so they’d be an unlikely match on many counts. Cognisant of this, I also auditioned the Simply Italy with two other pairs of speakers that I deemed far more sensible matches, both having relatively high efficiency (both had been measured as having sensitivity of more than 88dBSPL), and both of whose impedances were not only fairly benign overall, but also did not drop below 5Ω at any point. Auditioned with these moresuitable loudspeakers, I found that the Simply Italy’s sonic ‘light’ shone very bright indeed.

Unison Research Simply Italy Brand: Unison Research Model: Simply Italy Category: Integrated Amplifier RRP: $3,199 Warranty: Two Years Distributor: Radiance Audio Visual Address: Unit 33. 5 Gladstone Street Castle Hill NSW 2154 T: (02) 9659 1117 E: info@radianceav.com.au W: www.radianceav.com.au

Design Sound Fit ‘n Finish

Needs reasonably efficient speakers

LAB REPORT: Turn to page 56 Test results apply to review sample only.

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ROCK ON By Jez Ford

Eric Clapton | Old Sock An appropriate title for a mish-mash of styles and songs, delivered perhaps too effortlessly by the venerable guitar God as he plucks from his portfolio of styles. He Marleys-ups Taj Mahal’s ‘Further On Down The Road’ and carbon-copies Peter Tosh’s country-reggae crossover ‘Till Your Well Runs Dry’; he backs up to the 1930s for four tracks—a softlysoftly ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’, a sloppy duet with Paul McCartney on ‘All of Me’, a slide-

guitar moan through Lead Belly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ and a downright dreary ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’. There’s livelier stuff, including two original compositions, but the highlight is perhaps an unexpected cover of Gary Moore’s ‘Still Got The Blues’, with Stevie Winwood guest-grinding the Hammond organ. It’s all warmly recorded and listener-friendly, pipe and slippers in place throughout.

The Eels | Wonderful, Glorious This is a harder, rougher Eels album than the many before it, the always-melodic Mr E amending his method, jamming with his tour band rather than sitting in studio solitude. The result arrives ready to rage—‘I’ve had enough of being a mouse/ Bombs away, gonna shake the house’, he begins, growling rather than whispering, and when he does insert one of his trademark sequences of sheer beauty—the strange bridges of ‘Peach

Blossom’, the softness of ‘True Original’— chances are it’s a brief respite before the fuzzy guitar licks return and the gravel gets back in his throat. Production is defiantly indie: rich yet raw, sweet yet scratchy, something of The Flaming Lips’ mid-period grungy grandeur, punching unexpected holes in your airspace. Also evolving are Everett’s unusually uplifting lyrics—smell the roses, live a better life.

Johnny Marr | The Messenger One of the great under-rateds of our age hits his first solo stride; Marr has never hitherto delivered a solo record. He can certainly craft a dynamite opening—nearly every tune here gallops from the gate all jingle and shine, the opening track ‘The Right Thing Right’ most of all, a slice of pure Manchester with signature foghorn guitar howl. Marr knows his soundcraft, weaving and embroidering close-patterned textures and

grooves from his jangles and noodles. Some tracks deliver on this promise: ‘Sun and Moon’ is alive with layered guitars; ‘Upstarts’ hangs onto its bouncy groove with a slice of appealingly off-kilter ‘80s atonality. Others, meh, not so much: the drums drag down ‘Lockdown’ as its Britpop vocal and recurring riffline fixate drearily on minor thirds and fifths respectively; the title track is similarly moody and meritless.

Jimi Hendrix | People, Hell and Angels After some lacklustre material on previous Hendrix Family sanctioned releases, this is a much brighter collection of ‘new’ Hendrix salvaged from tapes of studio activity in 1968–9. Some songs sound near-complete or clearly worthy—‘Earth Blues’ is a must-have; the guitar figures and solo of ‘Hey Gypsy Boy’ are positively extra-dimensional. ‘Somewhere’ grinds along deliciously with a ‘No

Quarter’ bass line from Stephen Stills, who may be to blame for a sunny but incongruous West Coast middle eight, saved by a rip-roaring Jimi solo to the end. Such extended solos are everywhere, several songs being fairly loosely jammed—very loosely in the case of ‘Inside Out’. But hey, these are Hendrix jams, with Hendrix solos, and definitely worth the release.

Dermot O’Leary Presents: The Saturday Sessions 2013 It’s only hindsight that makes the latest collection from Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show look less star-studded than the first in 2007—many have made their mark since. Here the 39 tracks include old-timers such as Robbie Williams (a great acoustic ‘Candy’) and Tom Jones (Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’, better than Jones’ recent album version), plus newer stars including Ed Sheeran and Bat For Lashes. But the treats

are again gems from up and comers, made all the friendlier by a preponderance of cover versions, and sounding intimately immediate in the BBC’s diamond-edged production of stripped-back acoustic sessions. Rachel Sermanni transforms ‘I Want You Back’ (Jackson 5), The Slow Show’s ‘Born to Run’ makes them a must-investigate; Plan B does ‘Song 2’. A diamond mine.

Alvin Lee | Still On The Road To Freedom Lee’s passing in March adds pathos to the album title and to the listening, but even before the event this was a strong collection of songs, all self-penned and self-produced, softly sung and loaded with searing lead guitar licks—shiny and bright up high, thick and crunchy down low. He goes acoustic for three tracks at the start of the second half; indeed this is a beautifully structured album, from its tale-telling title track with slightly stumbly

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extended solo, through carefully-placed high and low songs to a reworked Ten Years After track ‘Love Like A Man’ to finish—it’s a performance piece delivered in an age of segmentation by download. Was he referencing “Back in Black’ in the curlicue close to the riff of ‘Rock You’? Now we’ll never know. But he must have been proud Jez Ford of this solid swan song.


Jazz Track By John Shand

Phil Treloar | Primal Communication |Feeling to Thought FT-010 You know how dreams can have transitions where you seem to step through a portal from one world to another? Phil Treloar’s monumental Primal Communication is like that. Composed for strings (Conservatorium of Tasmania String Orchestra) and improvising quartet (Feeling to Thought: Treloar, percussion; Mark Simmonds, tenor; David Ades, alto; Steve Elphick, bass), it continually astounds with its oneiric sliding between these ensembles.

To describe the two as simply being juxtaposed is to miss the inexorable flow of the piece. It is more like a river passing through wildly differing countryside. This live performance, recorded by the ABC in 1988, now finds its first CD release. A pivotal work in combining composition and improvisation, it is joined by Directions Changing: a set of variations for Feeling to Thought and Pipeline Contemporary Music Project.

Allan Browne | Conjuror | extempore/Jazzhead Head161 Allan Browne is a poet as well as a musician, and just as his drumming is pared down, pithy and evocative, his poetry bristles with rhythm, accent and momentum. Conjuror is both a book of Brown’s collected poems and an album. They sit easily together, like an Henri Rousseau painting with Erik Satie’s music, and the confluence is sealed by some poems receiving musical settings on the album.

The band of Eugene Ball (trumpet), Geoff Hughes (guitar), Phil Noy (alto sax) and Nick Haywood (bass) is expanded by the bright angles of Marc Hannaford’s piano. The compositions engender some of the finest recorded work of those concerned, especially the ecstasies, witticisms and agonies of Ball’s trumpet. Browne’s heart is as prominent as his drumming is unaffected.

Fly | Year of the Snake | ECM 2235 A cold wind sweeps through this music, like someone left the studio door ajar. It whistles through the grooves, as though it, rather than human propulsion, drives the pieces forward. It curls around the edges of the notes and induces a whispering quality. It makes one pleased to be snug indoors when listening, and not out in the full, roaring blast. This feeling of wind-swept desolation seems to haunt the work of tenor

saxophonist Mark Turner. A portentousness is implicit, but so too is a crucial sense that a human is caught in the wastelands. Without that the music would be nothing. Brad Mehldau’s rhythm section of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard complete the trio, the pianist’s lushness replaced by spine, sinew and barely an ounce of extraneous flesh. At once eerie and remarkable.

Pat Metheny | Unity Band | Nonesuch 7559-79615-0 Pat Metheny has not used a saxophonist for more than 30 years. Enter Chris Potter to apply his blowtorch improvising skills to a set of Metheny’s typically attractive compositions. Metheny is confusing. Often that very attractiveness seems his entire raison d’etre, and sometimes he is actually prepared to scarify the musical soil, rather than just plant pretty little gardens of melodies. Here he does both—even with his

usually gimmicky guitar synth. On Roofdogs he has the thing howling like all the curs of hell have escaped. Not that it would be easy to churn out fripperies when bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez are on such a mission to hunt down the truth and nail it to your ears. Make no mistake: this is a mighty rhythm section, and you’ll hear that it has been spectacularly well-recorded.

Jacam Manricks | Cloud Nine | Posi-Tone PR8098 Jacam Manricks is an odd combination of traditionalist and adventurer. Sometimes the New York-based Australian’s music sounds like a throwback to the Mad Men era: unruffled, suave, and effortlessly melodic. Then he hits you with a little sonic exploration or a composition that defies prediction at almost every turn. Here the alto saxophonist’s band includes Sam Yahel’s organ. For years this instrument’s place in jazz was digging giant grooves and filling them with thick

weaves of sound. Gradually its chameleon-like adaptability has come to be exploited: its ability to create constantly shifting timbral backdrops. Completing the band are Adam Rogers (guitar) and Matt Wilson (drums), with beautiful cameos from trumpeter David Weiss. Manricks’ playing is steeped in bebop’s agility, but has a woody mellifluousness, and his wide-ranging compositions engage and surprise.

Linda Oh | Initial Here | Greenleaf GRE-1024 Linda Oh is one of the most exciting bassists Australia has produced. Born in Malaysia and raised in Perth, she now lives in New York where she has been playing with such heavy hitters as Kenny Barron and Dave Douglas. You can hear why on this album, for which she composed most of the material. Most jazz bassists have tended to be attracted to either post-Charles Mingus vigour or a post-Scott LaFaro more melodic approach. Oh consummately discharges both roles, and

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on the amusingly titled No. 1 Hit even does them simultaneously: generating ravishing ideas that are still vehemently propulsive. Her spirited band has Fabian Almazan (piano, electric piano), Dayna Stephens (tenor saxophone) and Rudy Royston (drums). Together they make intricate, finelydetailed music, the highlight being the powerfully moving Deeper than Sad. John Shand [www.johnshand.com.au]

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