the signals yearbook 2010
tel : 01473 655171 Signals UK Ltd 6 St Maryʼs Park fax: 01473 655172 Bucklesham email: email@example.com Ipswich web : signals.uk.com Suffolk IP10 0DY : playhaus.co.uk Signals supply and install audio, home theatre, smart lighting, control and multi-room products. Our brands include:
Arcam, ATC, Audio Technica, Chord Co, Dynavector, Epos, Epson, Focal, Grado, Harbeth, Harmony Hutter, i-Light, Isoblue, Kudos, Lyra, Michell, Moth, Naim Audio, Neat, Nordost, Nottingham Analogue, Ortofon, Partington, Rako, Rega, Slee, Sim2, Something Solid, Sonos, Stands Unique, Stax, Sumiko, Trichord, Wireworld
Welcome to ʻInterconnectʼ, our vaguely surrounding ourselves with ʻmuzakʼ but living annual indoctrination booklet. My name is Alastair breathing, engaging music. This ʻheart and soulʼ Gardner and I started Signals back in 1993. For the aspect to musical replay is influenced by the equipment used, the combinations selected and last six years, Andy Heavens has been part of the even the wiring used to put it all together. business too. Thanks, as ever, to all our customers for, The following pages are filled with details buying from us. We have seen a terrific amount of of all that is new in our audio world. These devices loyalty over the years which I hope we manage to are not dedicated to picking up the third cough from the left or the doors on the tube train under the reciprocate. Kingsway Hall, although they will doubtless let you When writing this missive, I usually start with a run-down of our latest products and an outline hear these things if you want to. The products we of how we are doing. I take great care to avoid sell with such enthusiasm give you a connection to sounding too confident, just in case I bring down the the performance of recorded music, however itʼs stored, with a level of involvement that is rewarding house of cards by appearing too cocky. and uplifting. It could actually be good for you. Editing it, I suddenly realised that this Beats Prozac. More addictive! missed the point entirely. Reporting that we seem to be hanging on OK in a recession (touch wood, all good, thanks) might reassure those who worry where to go if their box ever blows up, av a but itʼs not particularly interesting. Nor is it ila sele ble on really what we are about. cted Signals is in the pleasure business purc and has been for over sixteen years. How term hase s an good is that?! s d co app ndit ly A while ago, a customer and I ions were discussing the relevancies of various professions. He is a retired doctor and doctors save lives, so, I mused, thatʼs about as important as it gets. “But what you do actually makes life worth living” he said, “much more Look, you important”. I know that all this was really kindly rubprobably shouldnʼt. But if bish, but buried deep in there is a glimmer of truth. you must, do it with us! Please ask However wet it sounds, musical for details. enjoyment is life-enhancing. Iʼm not talking about
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summer bash 2009 For our three day event, we returned to the relaxed charm of Pipps Ford, a rambling 16th century farmhouse. The choice brought unsolicited praise. Having used a rather grander setting last year, the feedback was that 'Pipps' was the more relaxed venue. One rather more thoughtful individual felt that it "sits more comfortably with the Signals ethos". We certainly aim for informality and Pipps gave us just the right 'vibe'. First of all was the Rega turntable service day. Truth be told, this was a little quieter than we had hoped. With the small number of visitors it could have been a wash-out but it was not. Customers had time to discuss system changes, to hear the new Isis CD player and to get their decks looked after by Rega's Phil Freeman. Best of all for those who came along, the odds on winning the Rega Brio amplifier were spectacular! The one-in-seven winner was Kevin Notley from Ipswich. Day two was on the more familiar territory of a Naim day, this year with Doug Graham and Mark Raggett in attendance. We had our CD555 / NAC552 / NAP500 system running into the new Ovator S600 speakers. As
well as the CD555. we used a new CDX2-2 CD player and the new Naim DAC. All items were very well received, with the Ovators giving remarkable clarity and refined transparency. The bass is both warmer and more extended than has been the Naim norm in the past. The CDX2-2 on its own surprised many with its accomplished music-making and adding the DAC was a universal 'no brainer'. Negatives? The music choice was maybe not universally admired (nothing new there, then) and the coffee machine did its level best to drown out Doug Graham's explanations. Day three saw us adopt 'house party' mode for the Saturday. Derek Gilligan from Kudos was there with pre-production samples of a new 'super' version of the C10 loudspeaker. The Super Ten 'landed' exceedingly well but it will be quite pricey. Overall, it was a lovely day with blue skies contributing to the relaxed atmosphere fed by a real mixture of music. Paul from Diverse Vinyl was selling his wares and, with a mixture of systems running into various Kudos products, the feedback, again, was very positive. In addition to Naim's own draw for the new DAC (out of all of the Summer Sounds events), we had our own draw for a Naim Powerline mains lead. The winner was Kristan Farrow. Thanks go to Christine and Simon at Pipps Ford (the venue is available for events tel 01449 761733), to Phil and Paul at Rega, Doug and Mark at Naim, to Derek from Kudos and to Sara, Rhea and Eleanor for all their help in looking after the guests. Most of all, thanks to those who attended, it would have been pointless without you!
Happy, smiling faces. From the top: Howard and Libby Knifton-Smith at Naim HQ receiving their Naim HDX won at the 2008 Signals Summer Sounds road show from yours truly. Kristan Farrow receives his Naim Powerline and Kevin Knotley his Rega Brio amplifier, both from our Andy Heavens.
not a number Roy Gandy and a partner started ʻRegaʼ in 1973. The name was formed from their surnames (Tony RElph, Roy GAndy). The partnership was disolved fairly quickly and Terry Davies joined as Rega's financial administrator, forming the company that still exists today. Their first product was the Planet turntable. In 1975 the Planar 2 was developed and quickly took its place in the market as the finest budget turntable. In June 1977 HI-FI News and Record Review announced the Planar 3 saying 'The complete unit is worth a look'! Rega's usual blaze of non-publicity. By 1980 Rega employed thirteen staff, exported to twelve countries, had twenty UK dealers, and there were those dreaded waiting lists.
In the same year Roy found an old mill (Park Street) in a residential area in Westcliff-onSea, Essex. The building had been deserted for twenty years and, judging by the rot, seemed to have a millstream still running through it. Rega snapped it up for £30,000 and turned it into a compact but highly functional hi-fi factory, liberally painted bright green. A new factory was built in 1992 on the Temple Farm Industrial Estate in Southend-on-Sea under Roy's design and guidance to house the production of loudspeakers and amplifiers and to ensure room for further growth. This building has been expanded and
now houses Regaʼs entire operation with the old premises used for storage. Anyone who remembers the cult 1960s TV series ʻThe Prisonerʼ will get the irony. Rega has managed to stay clear of conventional corporate behaviour. To this day, they do not advertise, prefering to work on the utopian ideal that people will buy their products on value and merit alone. Terry Bateman, their characterful electronics designer, likes leaving obscure messages on the
circuit boards (left). The day we visited, a nice lady in the amplifier department had baked us a cake. Get the picture? Definitely not just a number. Rega understand the joinedup nature of audio systems and they build exactly that: systems. They actually go the full nine yards by manufacturing every part of the chain from cartridge to loudspeaker on site in Essex - nope, not out-sourced to China - the loudspeaker drive units and phono cartridges really are manufactured, by hand, on the premises. The Rega turntables have been the mainstay of sensible analogue for so long that it is easy to forget that they are rather good, too. They make the tone-arms that everyone else uses, so this part is really familiar. Mind you, these have just had a re-vamp, with changes in all areas, including cable. The tweaking industry might have to re-group! The most inexpensive amplifiers both have high quality phono stages built in, so there is
always the opportunity for a neat, affordable recordplaying system. The loudspeakers are proving to be very effective in both all-Rega and mixed systems. Superbly designed (in my humble opinion) both visually and sonically, they offer proper clean extended bass, excellent imaging, overall clarity, coherence and timing. They do not draw attention to themselves, keeping your attention on the music, and are every bit as valid with other peopleʼs electronics (as are the CD players and turntables). They have good quality wood veneers and the option of a fantastic high gloss black or white lacquer. We have been impressed by both the Brio 3 and Mira 3 amplifiers. The sub-£500 Apollo CD player is excellent and the Saturn even better at roughly twice the price. Signs are that they know what they are making. The range extends upwards through the superb Elicit amplifier to the Cursa 3 / Maia 3 pre-power amps. There is the high end Ios
(as in eye - os) phono stage which is a worthy partner to any serious turntable, including the Rega P7 and P9 models. The Apheta MC cartridge fits in very nicely. They might have a ʻNaim-liteʼ reputation but actually the character is quite different : Often more open and expressive, particularly in voice, at the expense of some of Naimʼs sense of organisation. This was the line-up until late in 2009. Then Rega decided to pitch into the high end market and offer something genuinely special. Isis CD player and Osiris integrated amplifier. These are serious products at serious prices (just under £6k each / £11k for the pair). If you are looking at (or above) this price level, you really need to hear them. The Isis in particular ʻdoes stuffʼ that you are unlikely to have heard from a CD player before.
Weʼve only been selling Rega equipment for about 18 months yet already have almost the full range on demonstration. This has to say something - apart from ʻsmall rangeʼ, that is!
far left : Apollo CD players left : RS5 and RS7 speakers top P7 turntable above : Isis CD with Osiris amplifier
analogue devices Meet Anna, Ace Anna, to give the full name. Nottingham Analogueʼs finest ever tonearm. As with the Ace Space Arm, the Anna is a Unipivot design and again, as with its siblings, it does not handle like one. In fact it is utterly conventional with none of the wobbling histrionics that you can get from this type of bearing. As with the Ace Space arm, it is also available as a 12”. Since our decks are set up for the shorter 9 or 10" arms, we have been demonstrating and comparing the Ace Anna in the shorter 10" version. This way we can work on a fair and level basis. And the difference between the arms is? Utterly mind blowing. Hyperbole might be my middle name but nothing, NOTHING we have had here has surely ever sounded this good. The life, the sheer colour and exuberance is magnetic. That it comes with absolute purity, neutrality, refinement
and a complete lack of crash, clutter and confusion, however complex the material, is a revelation. The result is that music is extremely captivating. 'Filler' tracks become interesting. Good ones become great. It really is hard to believe that something so physically similar can sound so unequivocally better. If you can be bothered to analyse the sound, it times, it resolves, revealing textures and subtle inflections from deep bass through to high frequency percussion. It gives life and commitment to instruments and voices. It images on a grand deep and wide scale producing the sort of sound-scape that immerses you. The 12" version may well be better still (and it is) but for now, I personally could not care less. What we have is already magic. It simply needs to be enjoyed. The new Ace Anna generates a couple of quandaries too. First of all, it makes so much of the £1160 Ace Space Deck that someone contemplating upgrading the deck may well decide to tackle the arm first. Secondly, it seems to get an inordinately good result from relatively affordable cartridges, such as the Lyra Argo i (just replaced as I write by the Delos). The Skala sounds better still but the Ace Anna could well be a more cost-effective move than upgrading either cartridge or deck. If you already have a Space or Ace Space arm and have spending money, you ought to give it a listen.
In my enthusiasm to talk about the Anna, I seem to have missed out an introduction here. Vinyl is alive, well and thriving. We continue to get along extremely well with Nottingham Analogue (NA) products and the ʻAceʼ (ʻimprovedʼ in NA-speak) versions, in particular. The Ace Spacedeck arrived on the scene about four years ago and the performance gains over the basic Spacedeck, which remains available, are bewilderingly large - far greater than the modest price differential and nigh-on identical appearance would suggest. PSU and heavy kit upgrades pretty much fill the gap between it and the almighty Dais, although the Hyperspace continues to be available too. Tone arm matches include the various Regas, Roksanʼs Nima and NAʼs own uni-pivot designs. Iʼm just dreading the next generation of ʻreally aceʼ or ʻsuper aceʼ updates. Hi-ace? With the arrival of Rega we also have a range of budget decks to (mainly) sit further down in the ability ladder. The Rega P7 and P9, however, compete in the more ʻseriousʼ territory too. The P7, with its novel ceramic platter, is a stand-out product for us. A massive step up from a P5 for a comparatively modest outlay.
Another arrival within the past year or so, the Well Tempered ʻAmadeusʼ turntable has become one of the cult successes of 2009. It comes complete with tone-arm and in two versions. Standard is satin black medite and the ʻGTʼ is black anodised aluminium. In both cases the base-board has a damped sandwich construction. The tone-arm involves a golf ball suspended on thread over silicone fluid. The bearing is triangular (previously square) and the drive belt is made from thread. Wacky? Oh yes. Flaky? Certainly not. You can judge the appearance for yourself. American designer Bill Firebaugh has a long and distinguished history in turntable and tone-arm design and has taken the unusual step of simplifying his ideas to use existing manufactured materials wherever possible. The cost savings are significant. The Amadeus effectively replaces, and apparently outclasses, the WT Reference yet costs a fraction of the price.
The resultant sound is just as intended: as near as dammit absent! The Amadeus has gone through a number of evolutionary developments over the course of 2009 and the requirements of the latest versions seem to differ from the earlier ones. Suffice it to say that it has been a turbulent journey but the results are worth the effort. Set up correctly, the lack of colouration is impressive. As with the Naim Aro there is no adjustment for cartridge overhang and, again, as with the Aro, this seems to matter not one jot. The design brief was for the cartridge to be “held in the hands of angels”. Look, I felt queazy at this point too, but I sort of get what he means. It works brilliantly with all Dynavector cartridges right up to the £6k XV-1t and sings with Lyras. Jeepers itʼll be swimming with dolphins at any moment. Still, it beats the gooey ʻangelsʼ stuff. Well worth adding to the audition list.
needlepoint And so to cartridges. Sixteen years on, and we still get along famously with Lyra. Theyʼve always worked well with the NA decks but they also suit the Well Tempered to a tee(!). Out in the wider world, we have found greater success for the Dynavectors on Linn Sondeks whereas on the NA decks the opposite tends to apply. We still carry demonstration specimens of most of the more expensive cartridges and are happy to allow competent individuals to try before they buy. Better still, we will demonstrate them. Thought I had better mention this as it could be one of the positive reasons for dealing with us. Iʼm now struggling with the concept of negative reasons for dealing with us. Nope, makes no sense to me either. As mentioned earlier, the much-loved-inthese-parts Lyra Argo i is no more. The replacement is called Delos and, sad to say, itʼs gold with red bits. We are told that it really is quite a bit better than the Argo and itʼs only a £50 more expensive, so maybe we can overlook the gold! Lyra for Lyra trade-ins remain quite generous, by the way. Reeling through all of the options from Dynavector, Lyra, Sumiko, Rega, Goldring and Ortofon would take ages so you might as well speak to us. We have a significant range and, occasionally, even think we know what weʼre talking about.
it’s the products, stupid Naim Audio have posted their best annual results ever. Turnover is at a record level and there is no sign of this abating. The reasons for this trendbusting performance are, as the tab above hints, down to the products. HQ in Salisbury now has the air of a college campus with the number of bright young music loving technologists staffing their R+D department. It is a gratifying sight and the atmosphere is positively electric. Well, I guess it would be! The HDX music server looming above is one of the new breed of convenience-orientated devices that actually do the sonic business too. It is gradually evolving into a very high quality music hub. Add the new DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) and it really does offer compromise-free audio with endless potential for the ʻsmartʼ home. If all this tech scares the living daylights out of you, the new CD5XS and CDX2-2 CD players offer tremendous audio quality (and upgradability) for people who would far rather keep their music on silver disks. Anyway, letʼs run through what is new:
Nait XS integrated amplifier. It has more facilities than the entry point Nait 5i, itʼs upgradable with power supplies and can be used with a power amp. Power output is roughly in line with the Supernait to which itʼs closely related and, with all the digital gubbins omitted, it sounds far more as a Naim amp should. Fresh, open, clean and invigorating. Yes, we like it! NAC152XS preamplifier. Replaces the excellent NAC122X and was only required because the Nait XS was treading on its toes. In concert with the new NAP155XS, this makes an extremely compelling pre-power that is a proper step up from the XS. All the XSʼ subtlety and speed but with more scale and wallop. For the first time at this level in the range, the preamplifier can have the digital control electronics powered separately from the audio. The twin channels of power on the Flatcap2XS can be put to good use in supplying the 152 alone. And, yes, it works!
CD5XS replaces the CD5X and sounds closer to the outgoing CDX2 player. Very fluid and involving and capable of accepting either PSU upgrade or the new DAC. To do this it has to be restarted in ʻtransportʼ mode, disabling the normal analogue outputs. This is a milestone product, make no mistake. Flatcap2XS power supply and NAT05XS FM tuner offer improvements over the outgoing models. For the first time the NAT05 can be upgraded via the Flatcap, and the entire range is now finished with dapper new black anodised brushed aluminium front panels. Further up the ladder the new CDX2-2 maintains the same price as the outgoing model but offers a very significant uplift in performance. The ʻbareʼ CDX2-2 is roughly the equivalent of the old ʻX2 with the XPS PSU added. The XPS can be added to the new version too, but even more of an improvement can be wrought by adding the Naim DAC. As with the CD5XS, it can be set as a ʻtransportʼ to take advantage of this new product.
The DAC is housed in an ʻXSʼ style box but can and will be mixed with components from the ʻreferenceʼ series too. It is probably the most significant new product to come from Salisbury since their first CD player. Designed and developed by Hjalmar Nilsson, Steve Sells and John Marsden, the DAC is built for modern environments where digital audio can come from a wide variety of sources. It allows you to group multiple digital sources through a single input. But it's about far more than mere convenience. Taking advantage of the digital outputs on the very latest CDX2-2 and CD5XS CD players or the HDX hard drive player brings a genuinely breathtaking upgrade. Those who heard it at the Summer Bash were universally impressed. Subsequent handson has done nothing to diminish our respect. Radical use of extremely powerful Digital Signal Processing (a spin-off from the Bentley proj-
ect) means that the DAC can get the very best out of any digital source. It has the ability to play the digital music files directly from an attached iPod and to play music stored on a USB stick. Of course it can dovetail with existing network audio streaming devices too. Best of all, it can be enhanced still further with the ubiquitous Naim XPS or 555 power supplies that many potential users already own. This need to keep existing owners able to take advantage of the DAC does of course lead to the thorny issue of converting older Naim CD players to supply a digital signal. As matters stand, there will be the opportunity to modify existing CDX2 machines to give this output. The price wonʼt be too horrendous but, at the time of writing, I donʼt have a figure. Lurking below is the Naimuniti. This is a single box solution for those who need: CD replay, FM and DAB radio, internet radio, access to music located on a local computer network (even in hi-def*),
iPod or USB stick, five digital inputs for, say, Freeview or Sky boxes and a collection of analogue ones too. It even has built-in wireless (and wired) Ethernet. Equipped it most certainly is (as Yoda might say). And play music well it most certainly does too. Based on the class-leading Nait 5i and CD5i, it is a proper high quality audio system that just happens to have added benefits. Speaker set-up allows for sub-woofer integration with either small (satellite) speakers or large ones. There is a headphone output too. The cleverness extends to direct access to podcasts on the BBC network with such ease that people will actually use it! The whole menu system is a revelation and, quick start guide aside, the manual is likely to remain unread. The latest upgrade to the HDX renders it a UPnP server, so the Naimuniti can access the entire HDX music library too. Flexible multi-room audio. Now for grown-ups! *free firmware update late 2009
The mechanics of analogue replay is one thing. The electronics to handle the outputs of these devices is something else, and every bit as important. Not so very long ago, every amplifier had a suitable input for a turntable as a matter of course, often catering for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. The growth of CD as the dominant source led to the idea that customers who had no intention of using such an input would (a) prefer to have an extra line level socket and (b) resented paying for circuitry that they did not use. Cynics might argue that the manufacturers spotted an opportunity to charge extra for something they used to have to give for free. In reality, the in-built stages were rarely particularly good, although Naim and Rega tended to be exceptions to this. On top of that, it is arguable that feeding power to a phono stage within a pre-amp slightly reduces the quality for everything else. Either way, the external phono stage came along almost despite the arrival of CD. Since our inception, we have been aware
of the importance of good amplification at this end of the replay chain. It is somewhat ironic that the last years of the noughties have seen a plethora of high end products at prices that would have seemed outrageous when vinyl was the default medium. Wallet-drain risk apart, this is a very good time to be aiming for the best in analogue replay. Stand-out high end phono stages for us over the past year or two have been the Naim Superline and the Rega Ios pictured below. The latter is probably more relevant if you donʼt have a Naim system. These are supplemented by the Naim Stageline, Dynavector P75, a real cult classic, and Trichordʼs Dino and Diablo. Further down the Rega ladder, the basic £55 fono mini and slightly more expensive Fono MM and Fono MC have proved extremely popular. The Rega products showcase designer Terry Batemanʼs skill - and the marketing departmentʼs grasp of phonetics. The Naim Superline really has been a spectacular success. Internally it has a heavy brass sub-chassis with suspension as used in the 552
preamp and CD555 CD player. Loadings are adjustable via DIN plugs which carry the resistors and capacitors. It is only suitable for moving coil (MC) cartridges and has no gain adjustment, although there are two levels of sensitivity available at the time of ordering. In common with the more basic Stageline, it can be powered directly from most Naim amplifiers. In addition, it can be powered directly from a Flatcap, Hi-Cap or Supercap power supply. In the last case, a multi-pin Burndy lead is used to segregate power feeds even more. The Rega Ios is also only suitable for MC. It has two gain settings and is no less impressive, albeit slightly softer, warmer and more euphonic than the Naim. Those who are familiar with valve stages will be pleased to note that it uses step-up transformers at the front end. The Superline, by comparison, seems to have a little more of the Naim ʻboogieʼ factor along with perhaps a little more resolution too. PSU upgrades take it further still, giving it the advantage. System matching is likely to be the largest factor here and, with the Osiris amplifier up and running, we will be using an Ios as part of a very ʻalternativeʼ high end system.
Stands, equipment racks, call them what you will. If anyone tries to say they make no difference . . . Our knowledge base on this area keeps growing and the need to offer aesthetically appealing solutions to housing large, heavy boxes in such a way that they perform to their best is an agreeable challenge. Clearly, some masochistic tendencies are becoming evident! With Naim equipment, particularly at the more advanced levels (reference series and above), the Naim Fraim has become something of a ʻnobrainerʼ. It might be pricey but it is space-efficient and comes in sizes that take full account of the electronics that need to be accommodated. Some skill is required to organise the components in the most effective order and, with the tendency towards numerous power supplies, cable management and the need to keep them both free-hanging and unhindered (yes, it matters) can require some thought. In our experience and despite the heading, building mountains of kit is not a terribly good idea. Relatively low-rise stacks seem to work best. Space constraints can, of course, force you away from this ideal. Beyond the Fraim, we have had considerable success with products from Something Solid, Isoblue and Hutter. We have known Mark Orr, the man behind Something Solid, for about 15 years and his enthusiasm to try new ideas has led to some innovative designs that would render him a guru had he the inflated ego to allow it. His latest design builds on the string suspension ideas used in his XR series but eschews
metal in favour of all wood construction. It looks rather attractive, in a left-field kind of a way and we are looking forward to having the final version. This move away from steel ʻdovetailsʼ nicely with two other support systems that we have been enjoying. Hutter Racktime (peeking into the page bottom left) is a modular system from Austria and it uses aluminium and / or wooden uprights to connect the levels. The shelves are made from a deceptively complex sandwich of three layered cross-grained fir blockboard and are double veneered (again crossgrained) with the final layer in a wide variety of woods. There are even two cherry finishes, American and European. The quality is full-on furniture grade and the consistency, within the constraints that these are real woods, unusually high. Hutter make high quality furniture anyway and these audio stands were a spin-off developed by Hutter Jr. This is the stand that Naim used to use before they decided that they could do better and it remains a very effective solution at a price considerably lower than Fraim. The looks are perhaps a little ʻMarmiteʼ but it does tend to look better in the flesh than in photographs. There are also storage options for music and movies on any of the media required. The range of spacings, depths and widths renders this almost certainly the most flexible system on the
market. We have a substantial amount of this in our A/V-cum music demo room and it has proved very effective indeed. Staying with the all-wood theme brings us to Isoblue. This comes in two qualities of finish: the ʻ60 seriesʼ has MDF shelves veneered in ash or oak and has solid ash or oak ʻVʼ section uprights. These are offered in natural or stained finishes such as cherry, black or rosewood. The higher quality ʻSpecial Branchʼ series comes in pippy oak, cherry, quilted maple and American walnut veneers and has the edges trimmed with solid wood to match. The ʻVʼ uprights (see left) are in this case made from the same wood as the veneer. It costs about 50% more than the ʻ60ʼ, but does look very good. Examples above. We would council against the ʻ60ʼ cherry stained ash though. “Very David Dickinson” as one customer put it. The ʻ60ʼ oak is fairly stained too whereas the special branch version is natural. This is probably the most space-efficient stand and the sound quality belies the simplicity.
The large object on the left is a Naim Ovator S600 loudspeaker. It will be priced at around £6000 and a lot of people know this. Quite a few will have heard it too. At least they think they have. Over the course of the summer, Naim held the Summer Sounds Roadshow. We played our part in this by having the Signals ʻBashʼ. This was an opportunity to demonstrate new and (then) forthcoming products such as the DAC and the CDX2-2. All these demonstrations were conducted through Naim systems feeding pre-production samples of the Naim Ovator loudspeakers. What we heard was good too. Natural, open, clear, dynamically free and very ʻfull rangeʼ. Careful records were kept of how the speakers performed in the various locations, right down to how far away from boundaries they were being placed. Ongoing tweaking was also taking place and, once the ʻsummer seriesʼ was over, Roy George (chief designer) set about the final degree of fettling. Having explained this, I had better tell you a little more about this very radical speaker which will be part of a wider range, comprising larger and smaller sibling models, all using the same technology. Designed in conjunction with German speaker guru Dr Karl-Heinz Fink, the Ovator uses a flat diaphragm driver that covers a vast proportion of the audio spectrum. This Balanced Mode Radiator goes from 380 Hz to 35 kHz, leaving the twin conventional bass drivers to deal with frequencies below this point. The BMR is housed in an aluminium assembly which is isolated via suspension from the main cabinet. The crossover is located within the cast alloy base and the cabinet isolated on leaf springs. Even the speaker connections are decoupled in the modern Naim manner. Active operation is an option - with the crossover duties performed between pre and power amplifiers. The whole structure is extremely heavy at 61 kilos, itʼs beautifully finished and curiously tactile. Due here late 2009.
less is more
It's a couple of years since Derek Gilligan broke out on his own and turned stand manufacturer Kudos into a speaker company. We've been keen advocates of his products from day one and particular favourites have been the standmounted C1 and C10 speakers. Over time, there have been some subtle changes. The cabinet MDF is now denser, the binding posts are now made by Michell and the grilles look a little less ugly (still best left in the box). None of these changes have been considered dramatic, but something else has clearly been going on in the background. We received a call to make arrangements for us to hear a single-wired version of the C10. "I think you'll be impressed". Now, we already knew that the C10s sounded best with the speaker cable feed to the top (treble) terminals so we were willing to accept that some reductionism might impact on the sound. Nevertheless, we were surprised at how straightforward the judgement was. So now we have a demo pair of C10s with two terminals rather than the previous four. In fact all our demonstration Kudos speakers from C1 to the mighty C30 are similarly minimised. The new C2 and 20 floor-standers now sport a re-styled plinth. They are heavier than before, due to the revised MDF and, single-wired, sound significantly more organised. Our bias towards the stand-mounts remains but with a little less vigour! The C30 floor-standers are superb and, with the new sub £1300 X2 floor-stander due in time for 2010, the Kudos range has impressive breadth too.
As mentioned earlier on, we now stock Rega products. The new RS series of loudspeakers was launched early in 2009 and we get along with them rather well. There is the stand-mount RS1, and floor-standers RS3, 5 and 7. Naturally, they compliment Rega electronics, but they have proved very versatile, giving excellent results with other brands, including Naim. The system-in-a-box
naimuniti works particularly well with the RS5 and RS7. The entire range looks very similar, so there is a Russian Doll aspect to lining them up. Pictured on the right is an RS7 and itʼs the only transmission line, the rest have more conventional reflex ports. All are available in cherry veneer, black ash or, for a 10% premium, piano black (and now white) lacquer. In most rooms, they can be placed quite
As Iʼve doubtless mentioned before, speaker choice involves many more factors than any other audio component. Besides the normal aspects of personal (sonic) taste, aesthetics and amplifier matching, there is the requirement for them to actually work in a given room. A recent example brought home just how perplexing this can be. A long-standing customer has a very long and narrow listening room. Formed from an extension to an existing dining room, itʼs over 20ʼ long and little more than 10ʼ wide. The only viable layout is for the speakers to fire down the length of the room. Primary listening is fairly close to the system but also from a desk at the far end. For years, a small pair of ATC SCM7 speakers have seen various system upgrades pass through. Whenever we have tried speakers that have any significant bass extension, the combination of booms and
standing waves have rendered the results less, rather than more, acceptable. This summer, we had another go at the problem. Sealed boxes, ported ones, transmission lines, even Naim boundary designs (the Allae) were tried but nothing could behave in a way that was consistent across the required listening areas. Finally, we tried the Shahinian Compasses. Now, these are not especially tight in the bass, although they do have a lovely, and curiously ʻnon hi-fiʼ ability to simply play the music. Positioned slightly into the room, still close to the side walls and not far from from corners, they produced an exceptional result. Far from being simply ʻacceptableʼ, they filled the room with music, giving depth, scale and a bewildering absence of boom. They sound consistent over the required areas and almost perfect everywhere else. They might be a little above the intended budget, but they work superbly.
the golden compass
close to boundaries and, even from the smallest floor-stander, the bass is clean, agile and (when present) deep. The treble quality, once perhaps a Rega weakness, is very refined with a new softdome tweeter - designed in-house - producing very low distortion and reducing internal reflection. The paper coned side-firing bass and smaller front bass/mid drivers keep them slim and unobtrusive.
One of the yearʼs surprises has been Rega. Our initial reaction to their ʻCoupleʼ interconnect was quite muted but, over time, it has proved incredibly useful. Priced at well under £100, the Couple has proved successful in conjunction with brands as diverse as ATC, ARCAM and Primare. Pretty good with Rega too! If you buy a full Rega system, you get one free. Same again with the Isis CD player. For years, Iʼve been a cable junkie. The real star speaker cable has been There, said it. Out in the open. Drug of choice was Rega SC42. Their Quattro flat bi-wire cable is Nordost and no system was complete without a fantastic value for money, but the SC-42 is just plain liberal dose of Framingham Massachusettsʼ finest. fantastic, albeit at three times the price. Itʼs very Yet last issue of interconnect had no mention of flexible but there are downsides. Itʼs bit of a cables. Why? ʻhosepipeʼ. And itʼs bright yellow. We can imagine Guilt, self loathing and Naim. I should the guys at Rega Towers thinking that it would look explain. Whilst we have found quite a few systems great against all that green. Reggae Towers? As to benefit dramatically from a large investment in with the Couple, the universality of it is impressive. high end wires, we have found plenty of others, Dear old Naim have had a burst of mainly Naim ones, that donʼt. This need to qualify their use did give us something of a problem and we activity on the cable front too. A couple of years ago they brought out the Hi-Line interconnect, this year donʼt like giving ʻbum steersʼ. we had the Powerline mains lead. Having said all this, at our most recent With every other cable manufacturer the Summer Bash a local customer listened to the mega bucks Naim system (Naim cabled throughout) ʻtechʼ is in the wire. The gauge, the geometry, the dielectric (insulation material), the purity and type of and commented that to him, his far more prosaic metal all contribute something. Whilst the plugs (but all Naim) system at home sounded way better because of his Nordost mains leads. In his situation, most certainly have an impact on the character you sometimes get the impression that expensive it most certainly does. For others, it might not. ones are there simply to help justify the Anyway, metaphorical dust now stratospheric cost. having settled, we continue to stock a Naim have taken a rather wide range of cables for mains, different approach to all this. signal and speakers. For some years they have Nordost is one of the made much of the need for brands, as are Chord, mechanical ʻlossʼ at the point of Mogami, MusicWorks, connection. IEC sockets are set to Naim, Rega, Siltech, be loose, circuit boards are either on and Wireworld.
suspension or, again, set slightly loose. Releasing the locking collars on DIN plugs and making sure cables hang freely have been long time tweaks. Even their standard DIN leads and Burndy cables are shaken and relaxed before leaving the factory. With the Hi-Line they have taken this one step further and designed their own DIN plug, the Air-PLUG. It is low mass in structure and allows some mechanical decoupling between the pins and the cable itself. The cable? To the best of our knowledge itʼs nothing fancy, in fact very little is made of the materials. It is very relaxed, though! And it really is a big step from the already more than competent grey lead. As with the Hi-Line, the Powerlines come standard with 500 series components. Again, itʼs all about the mechanics. They have engineered their mains and IEC plugs (below) and, again, they work. Magnificently. As you might expect, they make more sense further up the electronics ladder but even fairly budget gear usually sees the benefit. We have had particular success using the Powerline to feed a mains block and then to distribute onwards with Powerlines or the standard mains leads (or a mixture). The MusicWorks ʻReflex Liteʼ block (pictured left), which has an IEC input on it, has proved popular for his very purpose.
The results were so compelling that it was a full day before we got around to playing with any other cable permutation. The gist is that we ended up prefering the single-ended pre-power link As groupings go, this one takes the to the balanced, and using the cheaper Rega biscuit. ʻLost and Foundʼ is an alternative heading. cables throughout. SC-42 was a ʻkeeperʼ too. Once upon a time, we sold quite a lot of ATC And how does it sound? Reassuringly electronics. Well, relatively. Gradually, business with them slowed right down. We have always got along difficult to describe. The bass control is such that well with them, although they can move quite slowly. you donʼt really notice it. The bass instruments, on the other hand, sound great. They can plumb the When Andy joined Signals around six years ago, we went on a tour of the factory at Aston depths and you can hear exactly what is being played (and on what). Dynamics are free and natuDown, near Stroud. At the time, they were working ral, there is minimal glare or hardness and the timing is fluid, allowing the music to flow unimpeded. You can follow note decays into a lovely dark oblivion, sorry, getting a little carried away here. Spatial cues are resolved well, so you get a realistic sense of perspective and depth. It has masses of headroom but sounds happy 'ticking on a matching power amplifier for the high value CA2 preamplifier. And now, late 2009, we have it! A over' at low levels too. Most importantly, the musical performance takes over your attention. proper British built pre-power combo for £2624. Straight to our ʻrecommendʼ list, then. In fairness, the CA 2-2 (above) has also received a substantial re-vamp, including a full size case. Both it and the P1 power amp are well constructed and the power amp has twin toroidal transformers. It also runs fairly coolly, helped by the Our relationship with Arcam is slightly massive heat-sinking. The CA2-2 now has an different. On the AV front, they not so much lost MM/MC phono stage as part of the main circuit their ʻmojoʼ as had it snatched away. Wrong-footed board although, strangely, it is still titled "AUX 2". by not having hdmi upscaling and full HD audio on The headphone socket remains on the rear panel. their A/V receivers, they suddenly found their Keen to find out what we were going to market ebbing away. The AVR600 appeared on the get, we first hooked the pre and power amps scene at the end of 2008 and this has put them together with cables that were to hand, namely a back on the map, albeit at a far higher price level. Rega "Couple" RCA interconnect. We fed a Naim The ʻ600 is a cracking ʻcake and eat itʼ CDX2-2 player into the pre via rather more expenA/V product, in that it really is a very good ʻstraightʼ sive Nordost Heimdall and connected the Kudos C30 speakers with Rega SC-42 cable. Mains leads stereo amp too. Roughly Arcam A38 level, in fact. Joining it for 2010 is the slightly simplified AVR500. were standard issue (my word have we changed!).
affordable high end
have cake, eat too. . .
Convinced of the market for quality A/V, we have splashed out and become a full blooded Arcam Platinum dealer. This gives us access to the high end AV888 processor and P777 power amp. All products offer the latest decoding, seven channels, hdmi connectivity and video scaling. Most include internet radio and network audio. And blooming good they are. All on dem and waiting to impress you, along with best bits of their two channel range too, of course.
Headphones: We have been stocking Stax and Grado for many years and have added Audio Technica in the last year or two. Far too little space to describe them all - and far too large a range, come to that. On the left, a slice of Audio Technicaʼs AD700. Open, airy sound and very comfortable, although you do need a fairly big head. Recently, the Grados that many readers will know and love have had a slight make-over. The entire range has acquired an ʻiʼ, except the 325i which now has an ʼsʼ as well. Iʼve got this bizarre award ceremony in my head. Despite their ʻretroʼ appearance, this range remains immensely popular, even for use with iPods. Rega make a high value headphone amplifier (the Ear) and this has joined the Naim Headline, Graham Slee Solo and a couple of Pro-jects as our staple offerings. Naim with Grado is a favourite.
Signals UK Ltd
Stax have produced some limited edition 404-Ltd electrostatic earspeakers (a BIG improvement!) and a SRM-600 Ltd energiser too. Stock on these is genuinely limited. Beyond that, the UK modified ʻKimikʼ modifications remain available. Most items are on demonstration. Home trials are available too. Other small stuff? On the right you can see the Focal XS 2.1 system. Itʼs a computer accessory that doesn't really need a computer. This sat-sub system takes audio through the USB interface, so it does full digital to audio conversion from the music files on the Mac or PC. It has an iPod dock and can play iPod sound directly from the dock with no computer involved. The subwoofer is moderately compact and VERY heavy. There is a remote control that can take charge of the iPod and adjust the volume. It attaches magnetically to one of the metal uprights on the speakers when not in use. Sound quality from the iPod is impressive, from the USB feed on the computer it is better still. They are designed for near-field use and are at their best when you are sitting in front of the screen. Proper clarity, bass and imaging too. The cost, at £399, seems very reasonable (can you tell we are selling?). We have one in the office and you are welcome to give it a listen. We usually have them in stock too.
focal XS 2.1
signals hi-fi for grown-ups 6 St Mary’s Park
tel 01473 655171