All 10 entries tagged Hi Fi Matters

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January 29, 2009

iPod Nano 4th Generation Review


iPod Nano 4th Generation Review


iNano Pod



I am well pleased with my iPod Nano which was a birthday Xmas present. It is a luxury 8gb model and it's worth paying out the extra for doubling the memory. They clearly aren't hi-fi although they do offer very good quality. The iPod is better as the AAC compression is a higher bit rate than MP3 players. That they don't off the last word in high fidelity is besides the point. Where they are going to be listened to on trains / coaches etc is an ideal listening environment.


The key thing for quality improvement is a good pair of headphones. I have a pair of Audio Technica EC7s the forerunner to th EC 700s pictured here. I got them for an excellent end-of line price. The EC700s are around £130.

Audio Technica EC 700



Audio Technica EC700

Here is the blurb if you are interested

Incredible lightweight ear-fitting headphones designed to offer both style and high quality sound. Audio-Technica has improved the EC7 earphones to bring you the EC700 GM's. With an increased driver unit and a reduction in weight to 11g, you'll get earphones with superlative sound and a lightweight fit, for total listening comfort.

The earphones feature an all aluminum body and unique, unobtrusive stylish design. Easy to clip on and designed to offer long hours of listening without them becoming uncomfortable, they come with a convenient protective carrying pouch.

Key Features

  • Type: Dynamic type
  • Driver: 15.5mm, neodymium magnet
  • Output overpressure value: 100dB/mW
  • Playback frequency zone: 10 - 24,000Hz
  • Largest input: 50mW
  • Impedance: 16 Ohms
  • Plug: 3.5mm gold plated stereo mini- plugs
  • Cord/code length: 1.2m (Y type)



My EC7s are superb but there is a problem when travelling that a lot of surrounding noise can be heard. Wearing them for a long time if you are a glasses wearer can also be uncomfortable. This means that I would be tempted towards good quality in-ear headphones such as the ones shown underneath if you plan to us them on public transport.


AT in ear headphones



Audio Technica CK9 In-ear headphones. Seem to retail for around £160







Audio-Technica presents the all new CK9 black earphones. These stunning earphone


s feature an advanced balanced armature system that has been precision factory tuned for sound quality across the full frequency. An acoustic seal improves noise isolation and an 11mm diameter driver delivers deeper bass, extended treble and higher fidelity. Yet these earphones are small enough to fit inside your ear and their size and fit means they passively block out a lot of unwanted background noise, too, so you can immerse yourself in sound.

Half the weight of the CK7 eaprhones at just 5g, neodymium magnets mean maximum energy in minimum size - far more powerful than conventional Samarium Cobalt or aluminum magnets. The CK9 BK earphones are designed for a simple and classic look and are great for outdoor pursuits such as running or at the gym. 

Key Features

  • Type: Balanced armature
  • Maximum Input Power: 3mW
  • Output Sound Level: 104dB/mW
  • Impedance: 30 ohms
  • Weight: 5g
  • Cable: 1.2m/Y-type
  • Connector: 3.5mm gold-plated stereo mini plug
  • Colour: Black or White
  • Accessories: Protective pouch





Sennheiser IE8


Top of the Range Sennheiser IE8 in ear headphones recommended price £250


The IE 8 are optimised for professional monitoring use and ideal for portable AV devices like MP3, DVD and CD players, iPods, iPhones, or any other mobile phone with a 3.5mm stereo jack.
Features :

- Dynamic drivers with powerful neodymium magnets ensure outstanding sonic accuracy and clarity.
- Excellent attenuation of ambient noise.
- Durable housing and rugged, interchangeable Kevlar®-reinforced cable.
- Unique, manual bass response tuning function.
- Sleek ergonomic design and various types and sizes (S/M/L) of ear adapters ensure a comfortable, secure fit and excellent attenuation of ambient noise.
- Optimised for MP3, iPod, iPhone, DVD and CD players, and mobile phones (3.5mm stereo plug).

Specifications:

- Frequency response : 10 Hz – 20 kHz.
- Cable length : 1.2 m, symmetrical (earphone to separator: 0.4 m; separator to plug: 0.8 m).
- Impedance : 16 ohm.
- THD, total harmonic distortion : < 0.1%.
- Sound pressure level (SPL) : 125 dB (1 kHz, 1 Vrms).
- Attenuation (passive) : up to 26 dB (95%).
- Connector : 3.5 mm, angled.
- Ear coupling : intra-aural (ear-canal fit).
- Transducer principle : dynamic.
- Weight : 5 g.

Supplied Accessories:

- 1 IE 8
- 1 protective case
- 1 set of ear adapters (S/M/L)
- 1 cleaning tool
- 1 cable clip



Unsurprisingly the Sennheisers got an excellent write-up in the Feb 2009 BBC Music Magazine although paying this kind of price just to use with an iPod seems a little excessive.  It is worth using on a full audio system but be sure to get an adaptor to fit the standard headphone sockets. One thing for certain is that the audio experience of an iPod can be considerably improved.  There are plenty of mid-priced in-ear headphones coming onto the market and they will offer a very good listening experience.









January 26, 2009

Blu–ray Audio: The New Hi–fi Audio Format?

Blu-ray Audio: The New Hi-Df Audio Format?


The talk about new formats and players is clearly being taken over by the release of higher nd Blu-ray players which will be able to give an excellent audio as well as video experience. Currently for those interested primarily in audio quality the lack of available software is going to hamper take up of the format in audio installations. The Trondheim soloists Divertimenti is the first blu-ray audio disc to be released. It won a Gramophone Choice in Nov 2008 and was well received by the BBC Music reviewer of the Denon  3800BD Feb 2009. The disc is actually a package of two one being SACD and the other Blu-ray as the formats are (of course) incompatible.


Bluray audio disc



There are now a number of high-nd Blu-ray players bginning to enter the market place however they will be of little us to the audiophile until companies commit to recording in this format. Presumably there will be a load of "remastered" ons coming available although it is questionable how good these are likley to be.Sony could well do this as it own music catalogues spreading across a wide range of genres


Denon Bluray 3800BD


The Denon Bluray player 3800BD for a cool £1700. Players like this will soon be replacing high-end DVD playrs in expensive AV installations

We can expct a plethora of Blu-ray players that will play CDs as well coming to the market from the likes of Pioeer, Marantz & Yamaha. These will probably people who are mainly focused upon the film reproduction aspects very happy however if this isn't a main priority I would hold fire on any purchase of on of these until there is some audio material to play. Th problem is that companies like BIS and Harmonia Mundi who have made a big investment in SACD may well be reluctant to invest in the facilities required for recording blu-ray audio.Hi-fi comapnies such as Linn are prioritising the high quality download market.



Marantz Blueray BD7003

Marantz Blu-ray BD7003 at the mor affordable end of the market


Perhaps the market will be pushed from the popular end? Oasis in 10 channels anybody?



January 13, 2009

Is The Future of Recorded Music Downloading?

Is The Future of Recorded Music Downloading?

Linn rcords





Introduction


Call me a cynic, sceptic, neo-luddite if you like but so far I have not been impressed by the possibilities of music downloading. Perhaps surprisingly it is companies such as Linn Records and their larger Linn HI-Fi brother that have taken something of a lead in this area and they will be looked at as a leading model later. I say surprisingly because of the anti-digital stance originally taken by Linn in the early days of CD. Apart from the fact that you have no hard copy to back you up, unless you make them yourself, there is a lack of nice booklets which can tell you about the music and musicians of whatever musical genre. I do admit though that there is probably something of a generational thing here and as a student I would be aspiring to a music server.

Arcam Music Srver


Arcam FMJ Music Server MS250




On thing I have noticed as the internet has developed is the increasing ability of companies and institutions to pass expenses and time consuming jobs onto the customer. Skimpy little instruction books tell you to go online and print the full off for example. Adorno and Horkheimer discussed how people would work hard at their leisure time in their well known article on the Culture Industry. It seems to me that there is a danger of this happening here.

I do put most of my CDs onto iTunes which can be downloaded to my iPod but this isn't meant for high quality listening although investing in good headphones can dramatically improve the listening experience. If you want to listen to computerised music files in higher quality then they can be saved as FLAC files. However, even this loses out against a full surround sound SACD although Linn Records provide "Studiomaster FLAC" which is full surround sound. One might as well get the SACD and put it on some sort of music server if you want some convenience. The other thing is you can always sell the CD/SACD secondhand or give them to Oxfam etc. Second-hand CDs can be fun!


Advantages of Downloads


Linn Records give a list of advantages for downloading although I'm still happier to go for 'the real thing'. Here is a link to the FLAC website for those interested. I have to say I can see the commercial advantages for Linn records as much easier access to global markets could make a significant difference for them and/or other small record companies.



Being able to download invididual tracks is a big advantage if you just want to trial something. For the classical fan Classics Online run by Naxos records provides large numbers of CDs in downloadable versions. This gives smaller recording companies like BIS and Hyperion global distribution, however, there is currently only the option of downloading at 320 kbps which is the equivalent of CD quality. The downloads have the distinct advantage of being DRM (Digital Rights Management) free so you can put thm all your computers iPods etc.

BIS

For the Classics Online list of recording companies please click here

You can find BIS for example on a number of other download sites howver these are only available as MP3 files which aren't suitable for high quality reproduction of classical music. Here I strongly recommend you buy the CDs.


Problem of slow internet connections


With CD file sizes being compressed to around 300mb and presumably with full surround ones being significantly larger the future of music downloading is very much dependent upon the installation of high speed broadband services. Currently in the UK many people are struggling to get fast connectivity unless they are near an exchange. Another issue is that downloading masses of large files might incur extra charges from your ISP depending on your contract.


Conclusion

Well on the resarch done so far Linn is well ahead of the game as far as downloading is concerned. They appar to be the only company that can offer full surround SACD. This fits with the company Hi-Fi vision that the future is going to b downloads via high quality digital stream players. Accordingly they have produced a range of these players which go from relatively inxpensive to "high end".

Linn DS Majik

The Linn DS (Digital Stream) Majik

As far as I'm concerned having back up is vital. Who wants to lose what could turn into terrabytes of music data? Perhaps companies like Linn will provide a back up on-line service for its customers? Despite my current scepticism I think that Linn is probably way ahead of the game as this will undoubtedly become the way in which people newer to hi-fi normally buy, store and play their music as so many people are used to downloading often pirated versions as quality and finance becomes available. But success  on a global scale in the long-term is dependent upon hi-speed broadband.


January 10, 2009

Greening Hi–Fi Reviews & Magazines



Greening Hi-Fi Reviews & Magazines

Audia flight 50 power


"The Audia Flight Pure Class A creates a 30kg radiator when it's idling" Hi-Fi News Review Jan 2009



As the posting on moving towards greener hi-fi focusing upon digital amplification is gaining good readership this has stimulated me to consider wider aspects of the construction of the whole discourse around "Hi-Fi" and consider how it could be changed towards a greener way of thinking and doing.

I have noticed that for somtime Hi-Fi News has been delivering a pie chart at the end of its reviews which includes an evaluation of the power which the particular product uses. This for Hi-Fi News is its "greenwash" as far as I can see. The magazine explains its pie charts as follows:

Plus, and here's an important consideration in our era of Global Warming, power consumption is indicated by a final green segment.


Well the Audia Flight 50 power amplifier illustrated above scored a dreadful 42% for the green segment of the review verdict of the Hi-Fi News verdict! Well it is clear that pure class 'A' is extraordinarily inefficient. It uses huge amounts of electricity and weighing in at 30 kg this is a huge amount of resources required to give 50watts per channel. The review even mentions that it can run out of steam if a loud listening session is required. Of course everybody who knows anything about electronic engineering knows this, so why continue to design products with this antiquated technology when there are a plethora of other solutions? Quad's famous current dumping invented many years ago and still going strong is just on such example. Here a low powered class A amp provides the quality and the power is class B.

Quad 909

The current power amp in the Quad range the 909 which uses current dumoing and can produce 140 watts per channel


Just as is happening in the field of motoring designers need to come up with better solutions than producing behemoths. Of course, those of us who like good quality sound don't want to compromise that. Class A can produce good sound but it is past its sell by date. Amplifiers will need to be treated like overpowered sports cars and taxed heavily. Those who are already happy paying £4,000 for their Audio Flight and the electricity bill shouldn't whinge at a green tax on their exotic and anti-social artefacts.


There is more to being Green than just considerations of power consumption

High end audio design can make good use of new materials. The Wilson Benesch "Curve" speakers being a good example.These speakers could also be ordered with real wood veneers sustainably sourced.

Wilson Benesch Curve

The Wilson Benesch Curve Speakers. Carbon fibre construction
can be combined with real wood sustainably sourced veneers


Clearly deforestation is part of the overall threat to global environmental catastrophe as the world approaches the tipping point for irreversable global warming. It is clear that a responsible attitude to the creation of products made to last and made in as environmentally a sensitive way as possible is essential. This relates to hifFi and home entertainments as much as any other industry.


Products which can be upgraded and with repairs supported by the manufacturer even for discontinued ones is a responsible way to proceed. Of course Quad was always famous for its quality of aftercare service. Built in obsolesence needs to stop. In many ways the big Japanese mid and lo-fi manufacturers are more guilty of this than high end companies nevertheless all companies must take responsibility.


Conditions of Labour


Another issue which must be taken into consideration is conditions of labour. For many workers in China conditions are appalling yet it is in this country where considerable amounts of home entertainments products are produced on wages which are a pittance. Another issue is the toxicity of many of the products going into electronic goods. These substances can effect workers health as well as pollute the land and water supplies.


Hi-Fi Consumers


One good thing about high quality proper Hi-Fi is that there is a thriving second-hand market. Well made products should last for years if treated properly.  Good secondhand markets mean good recycling practices. There can be a problem though. I bought a scond hand Pink Triangle DAC from my local dealers which was fine for a couple of years however when something went wrong with it there were no parts available and it had to be junked which was a waste. This is why a re-emphasis on aftercare following the Quad example is good business and good environmental as well! 

primare_1.jpg




Primare could be forming a new model for ethically and environmntally aware hi-fi companies


Conclusion

Good Hi-Fi can mean good environmental and green practices. The February Hi-Fi News has a feature on the Swedish based hi-fi company Primare. Many of the ideas which they are following seem redolent of a contempory Quad. There is rigorous quality testing, there is continuous research to try and produce very high performance products at a realistic price and a real concern with customer aftercare.


The new Primare SP22 integrated AV Preamp is a digital one claiming audiophile quality:

Primare SPA Integrated AV


The new SPA22 combines the advanced control flexibility and upgradable topology of the SP32 with five discrete channels of amplification rated at 120W each. The amplifiers are of a new type of purified Class D/switch-mode design, dubbed UFPD (Ultra Fast Power Device), which delivers a natural dynamic quality of sound across the entire audible spectrum while retaining an amazing energy-saving efficiency. (Primare website)

Combining a committment to providing high quality in a good value way and developing new tchnologies such as digital amplification to provide for new consumr desires without 'costing the earth' in both senses of the term thus making high audio available to far greater numbers of people is a far cry from the craft elitism displayed by by the gorgeous looking but antediluvian Audia Flight. Well done to Hi-Fi News for carrying this article.


January 07, 2009

Do Hi–Fi Mains Cables Make Much of a Difference?

Do Hi-Fi Mains Cables Make Much of a Difference?

Nordost Valhalla Mains cable

Magic or Myth?

Can Nordost Power Cable at around £1,000 per metre transform your Hi-Fi?




Cable companies are offering a range of power cables to the market place with prices seeming to go from about £35 for a QED one with Nordost Valhalla 2 metre mains cable coming in at just under £2,000!!! Here I've researched the Web to try and find out whther there are any reasonably objctive comments out there because I'm sceptical of such highly priced products. Added togther they would buy some expensive kit with presumably much better results in terms of improved sound quality. For my own system I would expect a much better return on investment by buying better amplification over my Quad 77 than by splashing out on several mains cables at over £100 each say.


The Case Against

The webliography contains several links to Guardian correspondent Dr. Goldacre and his column "Bad Science" which launches a lot of sceptical arguments and includes challenges to th hi-fi community around th issue of double blind testing. Below The KZone makes the following point:

The music you listen to will probably have been created in a recording studio. Even if it hasn't -- it's a live performance perhaps -- by definition it will have been recorded using electrical equipment of some sort. This equipment will have been mains powered. Now, I've spent time in recording studios, and I can't say that I ever saw one that used `audiophile mains cable' to power its mixing and amplification equipment. In fact, I've seen mains leads scavenged from kettles and toasters to power the mixing desk. As a matter of principle, your sound reproduction can never be any more accurate than the original recording. So if you spend more on your cables (mains or otherwise) than the studio does, you're wasting your money.


The Case For

The January 2009 issue carries a story about Paul undr its "Readers Systems" series. Paul has a system worth many thousands of pounds including MF amplification and SACD player as well as a Townshend TA565 Univrsal Player and a highly modifid Linn turntable. He comments that he preferred different types of music on the different digital players however when he discovered the Silvermann Clarity 3 mains cable at around £150 this improved the Townshend even with its separate power supply.

Townshend Universal Player


Apparently a £150 Silverman mains cable improved the sound of this nearly £3,500 player

Paul in Hi News said:

It was one of those fortunate moments when, for a comparatively small outlay, a real improvement in sound was obtained. The Townshend lost none of its strengths, but became much more involving . Indeed Max later said that he had noticed the same effect - due to interference from other parts of the system affecting the player. A very worthwhile upgrade then. (Hi Fi News Jan 2009 p94)


van_den_hul_mainsstr-bs-hs.jpg

Van den Hul lower amperage mains cable


Chord power cable


Chord is another cable company with a power chord in their portfolio



Overall I still maintain a strong feling of scepticism. I guess if your system already cost many thousands of pounds then the odd couple of hundred quid as an experimnt is fine, however, for those of us in more real world situations I think getting better equipment after careful auditioning is the most sensible route to improved sound quality.


Postscript

As you will see in the comments box a correspondent has (possibly) got a Kimber PK14 mains cable which he feels does the business.


Kimber PK Palladian

Kimber PK14 Palladian Mains Cable



Webliography


Guardian article on the Russ Andrews Power Cable

Ben Goldacre's Bad Science Blog on Kettle Leads

Follow Up Guardian Article on Hi-Fi Power Cables


Original Russ Andrews article from Guardian in blog format with many comments


The KZone: Snake Oil and Hi-Fi Mains Cables

This I Like Jam Blog entry on "Audiophile" products in general including some fine comments on cables


Vinyl Revival: Who Needs It?

Vinyl Revival: Who Needs It?


I really don't understand this vinyl rvival business which seems to be strong in both the world of expensive hi-fi as well as making a come-back in the 7 inch single market. Records operate at a severe disadvantage to digital media. They are prone to dust, scratchs and other general wear and tear. The record decks are frequently like thoroughbred horses - difficult to predict. The set up needs constant attention and getting good isolation from people walking past was often very difficult. Trying to find specific tracks on records was tricky, with a danger of dropping the tone-arm down too hard. Records themslves had to be turned over half way through - a pain when listening to longer classical pieces. There seems to be more than a touch of romance involved in all this. Below I have looked at the review of the Avid Diva II turntable reviewed in the January Hi-FI News and then compared it with a review of the latest Arcam CD / SACD player along with an integrated amplifier.

Avid Diva II Turntable Review: Hi-Fi News Jan 2009

Avid Diva II

The Avid Diva II Turntable

The Diva II is an 'entry levl' model for around £1,000. On top of that you need to buy a tonearm and cartridge. The Hi-News review had a tone-arm and cartridge combination for £840. On top of that there is an isolation mat on offer for £190 which I would have thought essential. Keeping the dust off is essential and this will cost a further £70 or £350 for a full acrylic cover. With the necssary 'accessories' we are talking a minumum of £2,100. Not exactly 'entry level' to my mind.

When it came to assessing the sound of the Avid the reviewer pointed out that there was a weakness in the deep bass:

But to complain about the lack of very low bass would be churlish, given that the Diva II cost £1,000 and as such is designed to be partnered with modest amplification and speakers. (John Bamford Hi-Fi News Jan 2009 p 76)

Well hang on a second I don't expect a functioning front end of a hi-fi costing over £2,000 to be partnered with weak amplification and tiny little stand mounted speakers with no bass extension. The review doesn't mention the amplification in the review set up although the speakers were Revel Ultima Studio 2 Floorstanders.


Revel Studio 2 speakers

Revel Ultima Studio 2 Floorstanding Speakers


Well I get deep bass out of my cheap Denon DVD player and the one before as well as the Teac VDRS 10 CD player feeding a pair of Monitor Audio Studio 12 Floorstanders. This seems to me a significant weakness in the Avid Diva so I don't know how the sound scored an 82% on the Hi-Fi News Pie-Chart. By comparison over the page there was a review of the latest Arcam CD/SACD and integrated amp which come in at £2,100 for both!


Arcam CD37 CD Player / Arcam A38 Integrated Amplifier


Arcam CD 37


The Arcam CD37 - It is also an SACD Player

The CD37 is now the flagship CD player in the Arcam stable replacing the CD36. Not only is it significantly cheaper than the CD36 it has the important capability to play SACDs. Here I repeat the Steve Harris comments on the bass quality of the player which one can compare with the Avid Diva record deck:

With Easy Money from Rickie Lee Jones the CD37 produced a bass sound that was big and warm... (Hi-Fi News Jan 2009 p 80)


When it came to SACD replay the machine gaind very favourable comments:

...the player clearly showed the finer detail available from the SACD layer...The whole stage seemed much bigger and everything became a little more relaxed. (Ibid)


Listening to the player and the amplifier in combination elicited the comment that:

...the player really did have an exceptional ability to extract detail and space from CD recordings....(Ibid)

The SACD sounded even better although little was said about this sadly! This is because I'm a recent convert to SACD. It seems to me weighing up both reviews that the Arcam SACD /CD player easily beats the Avid deck plus one gets a free amplifier thrown in for the same money as the AVID if you want to look at it like that.

QArcam A38 integrated

Arcam A38 Integrated Amplifier


Choice between pair of Arcams or the Avid: A No-Brainer!


Well guess how I would spend my £2,200 on the basis of these reviews? I should say here that the review didn't mention what speakers were being used.


January 05, 2009

Towards A Greener Hi–Fi?

Towards A Greener Hi-Fi?


beoleb 5

Beolab 5 an ecologogical hi-fi solution?


I found a forum on Green Hi-fi on the Gramophone site recently. I must say I was disturbed by the rather cavalier and selfish attitude of many of the contributors. The fact of the matter is that domestic power consumption is growing at a rapid rate and a lot of this is due to the rapidly growing numbers of various entertainment systems. A TV in each room, large numbers of teenage stereos and increasingly, budget surround systems etc. The replacement of old light bulbs with nergy efficient ones simply isn't going to ease the situation. Better design of buildings to incorporate energy gathring devices as well as better buildings can help reverse the ever increasing power demands. But better design and more thoughtful use of tens of millions of domestic entrtainment systems must be a part of adapting to the mounting global crisis of energy shortages and overproduction of CO2. Now this isn't to take a hair shirt attitude to one's listening pleasures, it does point to the need for an awareness of how energy demanding certain products are and in this respect a similar guide found on Fridges to be placed on AV equipment would make a good start. Plasma screens are far more power hungry than LCD ones for example.

The Ethical Consumer has a green guide to Hi-Fi which deals with the ethics of a wide range of companies such as sourcing wood for example.The following comments most hi-fi enthusiasts would probably agree with on grounds of quality of product anyway:

Buying a hi-fi
For readers concerned about environmental issues, the best advice is to choose separates. This approach allows consumers to obtain or replace only the functions they really want (CD, Tuner, speakers etc) and leave behind the unnecessary features (remote controls, lots of flashing lights). Generally speaking, separates are easier to repair and longer lasting. They are also of course, more expensive.


On the 22nd May their table was last updated with Arcam coming out as the company with the bst ethical rating. With the likes of Samsung and Panasonic near the bottom of the pile many buyers of Quality British Audio products can feel pleased. Given that I'm getting and Arcam tuner I could feel a bit smug xcept that I didn't know about this league table when I did it, however it will inform future buying policies.


For the niche market this Blog on the ecological upgrading of old Quad and Revox equipment is fascinating...Quad Spot . Here are the basic points in their ethical mission statement:

  • Print less documents. Invoices, manuals, documentation... will be sent in pdf format.
  • Only use 100% recycled unbleached paper for those documents (like address-labels) that need to be printed.
  • Only use 100% recycled packaging-material.
  • Only use ROHS-compliant electronics components
  • Only use lead-free solder
  • Only use 100% "Green" electricity
  • Make the ecological aspect an essential negotiation-point with our suppliers
  • Advise our customers about ecological solutions

Another Hi-Fi company with a clear set of ethics is Van den Hul. I did know about this and it has influnced me in my decision to order a pair of The Integration interconnects. Here is an extract from their general information:

Other important criteria with the design of our products are: the durability of our products, an optimal protection against environmental influences and the application of environmentally friendly raw materials in all aspects.

A J VdHul

AJ Van den Hul founder of the Dutch cable and cartridge company


More Efficient Amplification: Going D Class


It is clear that amplification is the big power user and here digital amplification which is still in its early days has to be viewed as the future. Here a Stereophile article on a more upmarket digital amplifier from Yamaha shows what can be done. 500 watts and running cool is here compared to an MF behemoth.

Yamaha 500 watt digi amp


The Yamaha MX-D1 500 watt per channel digital amplifier from 2005


Musical fidelity 1Kw monoblocks

Musical Fidelity's  1KW monoblocks. A small power station is needed for this lot!


The MFs are clearly a case of total excess and signify an ecological disaster trail. This seems to be a case of male alphas doing a bit of the 'mine is bigger than yours' stuff. There is no doubt that excllent sound systems can be produced without going to such extremes as this comment on ICE Power a form of class D amplification shows:

ICEpower is a radical improvement. Even super-high-end audiophile companies like Jeff Rowland and Bel Canto are using it in amplifiers that cost factors more than Rotel charges for this little honey. (See link to Rotel article in webliography)

Beolab 1 ice powered


The elegant Beolab 1 which is ICE powered

The fact is the designs are already out there the will to buy them and allow them to develop is another matter!

Webliography


B & O ICE amplification.  Perhaps this is the best route?


Rotel's use of ICE power from B&O


Direct Digital Amplification Improves Efficiency.......


STMicroelectronics Digital Amplifation 2008


Onkyo Digital Amplifier




Discovering SACD with the Denon 1940 DVD

Discovering SACD with the Denon 1940 DVD

SACD Logo




The key point however is that aside from the attractions of otherwise of multichannel audio reproduction, a really fine SACD, of which I have many in my personal collection, has a quality that can be profoundly, moving, that can truly cause the hairs on the back of the neck to rise. For anyone who loves the sound of music, rather than being interested only in the rate at which cash registers ring, this is an absolutely peerless attribute, and the day they lay SACD to rest - if it happens - will be a black one for music lovers, and for the recorded music industry, whose priorities in recent years have become increasingly muddled. (Alvin Gold AV Review)


Introduction

My old Denon DVD player finally broke down just before Xmas. As I only use it for playing back films on a Sony CRT set I was after something which had some basic build quality but I wasn't after anything special. CD replay is through a TEAC VDRS 10 driving a TAG McLaren DAC both of which I had got ex-demo for under £1,000 for both. The combination gives fine quality replay.

For a DVD I quickly decided upon another Denon the 1940 which had received some good reviews. I hadn't realised it was half-price. This is clearly because of the onset of BluRay. Not only does it have component video output - which matched my Ixos cable - but it plays SACDs. I did have a couple of hybrids to test out and quickly ordered some more.  I was amazed at how good the reproduction was. The sound was fresh and lively as well as revealing plenty of detail. I haven't carried out a comparison between the SACD and CD layers but I have heard enough to recognise just how good SACD can be.At £126-00 this has turned out to be a revelatory bargain. This Wikipedia entry on SACD is very informative on the more technical issues.


Why SACD didn't take off

The key problem for SACD seems to have been the format war with DVD-Audio. With CD there came into existence a universal replay system which worked anywhere in the world. Consumers were assured that their investments in both hardware and software would be protcted for a considerable length of time. Few people wanted a replay of the VHS / Betamax fiasco where the inferior system gained the market. Certainly I was one of those people. With a relativly large investment in CD replay equipment a low risk strategy seemed sensible especially as very few discs were coming out on SACD. A sceptical comment in a 2006 review of a high end Marantz player said a lot:


Speaking of which, are there any actual SACD users out there? Given the price of this player, one would expect the SACD market to skew only toward people with large amounts of petrodollars at their disposal. Any opinions in the house?

Marantz SACD Player

A $6,000 2006 Marantz SACD Player



Has Surround Sound Capability Confused the Marketplace?

I held off from the new format for years, until recently I realised that I should just go for a stereo only SACD player (a Sony XB940 off eBay fitted the bill) and not worry about surround. I don 't doubt that having the extra channels may be a nice-to-have, but since classical recordings are always "in front of the players" all you 're going to get from the back is mainly ambience, something you will also have from the front. (From the Gramophone Forum)


I think this is a good point. For those struggling to gradually upgrade expensive stereo systems were often horrified by the potential extra costs which would be to go multi-channel whilst keping the required quality, plus the issue that one's CDS wouldn't benefit from all this potential spending. Certainly I have no intrst in going multi-channel at present.


Who is Producing SACDs?

As far as I can tell the companies which decided to make a long-term investment in the necssary recording equipment have been small dedicated recording companies like the Swedish based BIS. The Wikipedia article comments that the vast majority of SACD releases have been classical, followed by Jazz and acoustic music.Companies like Linn are producing replay equipment as well as its own record label. Tghhere is problem that many music lovers are very sceptical about th high cost of entry into the realm of SACD as this article from the online Musical Pointers shows.


One big advantage of SACDs which are not Hybrids is the normous amount of musical data which can be stored. BIS, for example, has the Complete Organ Works of Bach on a 5 SACD set.


Now is a Good Time to Enter the Market

With the onset of Bluray which can playback SACD there are some good bargains coming up as manufacturers are licensing the Blueray system. The format war has been won and the market will be driven by films. My Denon DVD-1940 at £126-00 is a bargain with the SACD being a fortuitous accident:

Denon DVD 1940 1

The Denon DVD 1940 with SACD Playback


Denon DVD 1940 Rear

Rearview of the Denon 1940. The component video outputs can clearly be seen

Currently the machine is available from Hi-Fix mail order part of Frank Harvey Hi-Fi

I won't be buying a straight CD player again once the TEAC VDRS 10 gives up the ghost - mind you its built like a tank!

Webliography

MDT Mail Order music company guide to SACD

DVD-A versus SACD Ambisonic

Here is a recent discussion thread from Gramophone Magazine on whether there is a Fading Future for SACD

An enthusiastic Gramophone forum on SACD reissues from RCA

A technical explanation on the SACD recording process from Sound on Sound


January 04, 2009

Chord, Van den Hul or Nordost Hi–fi Interconnects

Chord, Van den Hul or Nordost Hi-fi Interconnects?


In a previous posting I discussed my decision to choose an Arcam FMJ T21 FM tuner over a DAB model. As I pointed out there this has left me with a subsidiary issue of what intrconnects to use which I will run to my Quad 77 Integrated Amp. Choosing cables seems very boring compared with choosing nice bright new components which can give a sense of pride of ownership but cables are only seen by you and rarely at that. Yet trialling a few rapidly shows up differences in fine musical detail and soundstaging. Another problem is finding cables right for your current set up.

Currently my best analogue interconnects are Chord Chameleon IIs which are now no longer available. Chord do an updated Chord Chamelon Silver Plus. They seem to be much cheaper from this supplier who happens to be my local dealer than most internet prices. 


Chord Chamelon Silver Plus

Chord Chamelon Silver Plus Interconnects


Another couple of candidates for the short list include the Van den Hul Integration. I was particularly attracted towards these as a review available through the Van den Hul website from Hi-Fi News had compared these cables very favourably with the reviewers own Chord Signatures which are approximatly three times the price and well out of my price range.

VdH Integration cable


Van den Hul Integration Interconnects


Another cable which came up in the course of research was from the Nordost company whose prices go into the stratospere and are not for th like of normal mortals who struggle to put together th bst systems they can on very limited budgets. One does need to b able to purchase music and go to live events as well after all. Anyway Nordost do a budget cable which is in the budget of about £120. Going through a couple of fora and review sites is changing my mind about ths cables. I listen to mainly classical / contmporary classical as well as a good range of Jazz and crossover types of music. These are often delicate and detailed and have a wide dynamic range. reports are signifying that the Nordost is rather lean and whilst 'fast' sacrificees the sublety.


nordost_blue_heaven_interconnect.jpg


Nordost Blue Heaven Interconncts


I thought I would check out Kimber cables next. I quickly noted in one review that the insulation wasn't great. Even though it didn't seem to create a problem why leave yourself open to the risk? following that I checked out Ixos but nothing attractive there. I have Ixos video cabling but my gear isn't good and isn't a major intrest from the upgrade perspective. I thn chckd out Audioqeust as I have Indigo + biwire speaker cables. It was difficult to get good information and pricing and I could find no useful reports at the affordabl end of the market.  I trawled around BADA dealers on the web to see whether there wereany other makes worth considering within the price range. I discovered Atlantic cables but some discussion fora comments gave them bad comparisons with Chord Chamelon Silver + which is on my shortlist.Of more interest is the .Ecosse Maestro MA2 but at around £160 it breaks the budget and I would be comparing it with the next upgrade in the Chord line the Chord Chorus. This is an interesting independent review of those cables from the TNT site which is a good discovery if you are into audio.


Conclusion

Well it has taken me a considerable part of the day tracking down information, going through fora etc. however is was quite fun. I know that the Chord Chamelon Silver + would be a safe bet and a cheaper option than the Van den Hul Integration. Some would argue that having th sam cable throughout the system in a 'loom' would bring about system synergies but it ain't going to happen. Money would better spent on cleaning up the mains more efficiently. Pure inquisitiveness has dcided me upon The Integration in fact apart from the Chord Van den Hul's own products seem to provide the closest competition. This link to The Van den Hul blurb also has several influential reviews.  I'll report back when all the gear is in place and do a bit of cable comparison.


Arcam FMJ T21: FM/AM Tuner

Arcam FMJ T21: FM/AM Tuner

Arcam FMJ T21





Introduction FM or DAB?

I have been wanting to get another tuner for my hi-fi for a while ever since my old beloved Trio finally broke down. I had already installed a good aerial for analogue which seemed rather a waste. I have been surviving by running a signal from my Nokia Freeview box to my TAG-Mclaren DAC. The trouble is that the signal is ropey and the TAG spends most of its time muting the signal.  A key question for anyone purchasing a tuner at the moment is should it be a digital one? There is crtainly a lot of pressure to go this way as continuous ads on the BBC for pople to get them as presents indicates. However glancing through various mags from Hi-Fi News through Gramophone and BBC Music shows that most afficionados prefer high quality analogue broadcasts such as BBC live concerts on Radio 3. As I only listen to the BBC anyway that has been one reason  for keeping an eye out for end of line high quality analogue tuners. Another thing is that is is by no means certain when analogue switch-off for radio will occur. There are simply too many car radios that are analogue to make this easy. There is certainly no rush to go for DAB unless you want a myriad of not very good commercial stations broadcasting on a low bit-rate. As DAB chips are also very power hungry there is an ecological issue as well here.

Trawling for Bargains

Of course a big advantagane of the internet is that one can easily check out hi-fi shops around the country to see if they are getting rid of their analogue tuners.  I found one Midlands shop with an Arcam FMJ T21 demo model now half-price. This seemed preferable to another ARCAM bargain FM tuner the DiVA T61 which can be found around half-price in a few places right now. The FMJ is part of their premium range with better specifications and sound circuitry. Usefully the ARCAM site provides information on discontinued products and info about the FMJ T21 is readily available.

Arcam T61 tuner


Arcam T61 Tuner



Naturally I'm looking forward to the arrival of the equipment however it creates another consumer problem which is what interconncts to use. My current interconnects are Chord Chameleon IIs which are now no longer made. This has led to research some other potential cables within an affordable category but which go well beyond the nominal 10% which som suggest should be allotted to cabling. My ruminations on this are contained in another posting but suffice it to say I have become convinced that cabling is important in terms of resolving fine detail etc.

Do remember that a good quality aerial is essential if you want to get good quality radio broadcasts whether in analogue or in digital.


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