Saturday, 7 December 2013

Renewed Listening Experience

Long suffering Audiophile Musings readers might remember this post when I went for a listen to another forum member's system in the South East of England:

Akurately Kontrolled Klimax

Have a quick read through to refresh yourself of the system and my thoughts from that first visit.  One of the best non-Exakt 350 systems I've heard (when the subwoofer was off), but still having that 350 bass that I don't get on with 100%.  Since then, Andrew (system owner) has been to my home to listen to my somewhat more modest system and we keep in touch regularly through the forum.

Disclaimer:  all my opinion, no double-blind testing, just some A-B-A comparisons which the reader may find informative
KRDS = Linn Klimax Renew DS - a Klimax DS/0 in a lower cost box
KDSM = Linn Klimax DS/1 with a built-in pre-amp

Contants in the system tonight:
Linn Klimax Chakra Twin (non-Dynamik) power amp
Linn K400 speaker cables
Linn Klimax 350 passive speakers

Stuff we messed about with:
Klimax Renew DS vs KDSM
With and without an Akurate Kontrol/0/D pre-amp
Without the pre-amp: unbalanced versus balanced interconnects

So I was down South again recently and got in touch with Andrew to see if he was around to listen to some choones.  Despite the short notice, everything was sorted and planned very quickly, but with knobs on!  Andrew arranged for Peter (forum member peter@57m) to meet up with us to make an evening of it.  And Peter was planning to bring his KDSM along to the party which made it that bit more interesting.  I headed out of Town late afternoon and Andrew kindly picked me up at the station.  We didn't go straight to the 350s, but diverted around to the home of another of Andrew's friends for a quick (very loud) blast on his home cinema system.  This is based around some B&O dalek speakers which can pump out some volume.  They're hidden away behind a massive screen which also doubles as a golf game screen - a real man cave!  I think this system is good for the whizz bang of movies and concerts, but it didn't feel musically engaging to me.  Great fun, but not threatening Andrew's system for and engaging listen.

We then had a tour around the rest of the house.  Underground garage and workshop with cars and motorbikes, a swimming pool, snooker room and the piece de resistance - the wine cellar.  The content of this room was beyond my limited knowledge, but its impressively laid out, including a little bar and all the wine is labelled by year of production and the range of years in which they should be drunk.  Of course, we had to sample some too...

Unfortunately, Andrew's friend was too busy to join us for the rest of the evening so we moved on all too soon, but onward to the main course.  Thanks to Andrew's friend - a very friendly guy who is much more down to earth than his house!

Soon we're facing the 340 centre speaker again and comfortably settled in to the listening room.  We start with a few tracks on the Klimax Renew and switch the sub woofer on and off a couple of times to decide which way to have the system configured.  Andrew loves his bass, Peter and I preferred the system without the sub - from where I was sitting there was less bass without the sub, yet strangely it went deeper.  And I'd worn jeans this time to try and avoid trouser flapping!  The sub stayed off for the rest of the evening.  A couple of minor changes to the system since I was last there - K20 has been replaced by K400 speaker cable and some kind of Russ Andrews filter mains cable now feeds the Renew DS.

We listened to some Blues Company, Seal, and some other stuff that slips my mind (maybe Andrew or Peter will be along soon to help me out here).  Then we picked a track and listened to the first 90 seconds or so 3 times.  Then Peter got to work behind the Hutter rack with the KDSM and cables.  Konfig was spun up and the volume control disabled on the KDSM as we kept the Akurate Kontrol/0/D in the system and used unbalanced silver interconnects from both streamers.  Then we went back to the track we'd listened to three times.  It took about 3 or 4 bars for us to be convinced.  We all looked at each other with a look of surprise.  This wasn't slightly better, it was significantly better.  Using the usual hifi terms then the separation between instruments was massively better and the noise floor had fallen again, enough to hear instruments you didn't notice with the Renew.  The acoustic of the recording venue (or maybe the effect of the acoustic of the recording venue added in production) opened out - for example on the Seal track it sounded like he'd moved from a living room into a concert hall. Going back revealed the closing in of the sound stage and now we could hear those instruments we hadn't heard before, but they're in the distance and they're muffled in comparison with the KDSM.  Vocals loose some richness and texture, the bass is that bit less tuneful and more difficult to follow.

We swap back, using a different track for before and after.  We're all agreed - the difference is quite distinct and much bigger than I think all of us were expecting.  Also interesting is that the Akurate Kontrol/0/D pre-amp was clearly capable of revealing these differences which is good for those of us who like to have a Linn processor for our movies.  But how much is it hiding?

Peter leaps into action again, Konfig is booted up and the volume control is enabled again on the KDSM.  The KDSM is then connected directly to the Klimax Twin power amp using balanced silver interconnects and no pre-amp.  Yet another layer of detail is revealed, along with yet further differentiation between the instruments.  However, a touch of harshness has come into the system - perhaps a hint of graininess.  I almost feel like it there is a little more "hifi" to the sound rather than just the music.  We go back to the unbalanced cables into the Akurate Kontrol with the KDSM volume control disabled.  Sure enough, the sound is a little less distinct and there's a much warmer feel to the sound - the graininess disappears.  Its one of those changes that really is more about personal taste rather than one being distinctly better or worse.  Hmmm, interesting.

Poor old Peter was again pressed into cable swapping duty (to be honest, I'm usually the one doing all this stuff so it was good to kick back and let someone else take the strain).  What now?  Well, how about taking the pre-amp out of the system again, re-enabling the KDSM volume control and using unbalanced silvers into the power amp?  So that's what we did.  Interestingly this was, for me, the best sounding the system had been all evening - this configuration sat neatly between the system with the pre-amp (warmer, friendlier, no harshness, no grain) and the system with the KDSM connected directly to the power amp using balanced cables (more detail, more separation, some grain /  harshness).  So we get more detail and separation (but not quite as much as with the balanced connection) but some of the warmer, less challenging sound of the system with the pre-amp.

So what did we learn (and, it must be said, very much agreed upon):
KDSM is significantly ahead of the KRDS - a much bigger difference than I think any of us were expecting
The Akurate Kontrol/0/D is a decent pre-amp, it clearly shows the difference between the DS products
The Akurate Kontrol/0/D is not transparent - it adds a warmth and a little haziness to the sound
The KDSM without a pre-amp is a mixed blessing - choose your method of connection to the power amp with care

We briefly listened to the KDSM with the HDMI switched on and with it switched off.  At this point, I was sitting to one side of the room so I found it difficult to hear a major difference.  Peter was finding it easy to hear and preferred the sound with HDMI switched off, as it had been through the earlier listening comparisons.

So a very revealing and entertaining evening (I know, some will find this a bit sad!) with excellent hospitality from Andrew (and his friend earlier in the evening), and generous support from Peter - great of him to bring over his KDSM, doing all the cable work and dropping me back at the station.

p.s. received a note from Peter the following day - his Klimax Twin Dynamik and Wilson Benesch standmounts and a sub is a very different system to Andrew's set up.  He doesn't use a pre-amp and had spent a little while the following day re-checking balanced vs unbalanced cables in his own system.  This allowed him to confirm that he still prefers the balanced cables in his own system.  The previous evening must've created some doubt in his mind, so good to hear that he's confirmed his original choice as working well in that system.


5 comments:

  1. Interestingly, we found when testing a few amps two years ago that the KCT was best unbalanced, but that Bel Cantos were best balanced.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. I find those who claim balanced cables are better than unbalanced have either only heard systems where this was true, or they've heard them better in one system and are assuming that it will always be true.
      I find that the choice is very system dependent and needs comparative listening to decide what's right for that particular system.

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  2. Totally agree. There is no best connection (XLR or RCA). Each audiophile should try all variants and choose the best for himself/herself.

    As for the main theme, you mentioned that you used Linn Silver interconnect cables during all the listening. When I was usuing Linn Silver I found that with these cables my Linn system sounded a bit harsh.
    So the cause of that harshness (graininess) may have been Silver.
    I am wondering is Peter using Silver cables in his own system too?

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  3. Yes, Linn Silvers throughout both systems. It only seems appropriate to keep the cable consistent (within the boundaries of their different constructions of course) when comparing unbalanced to balanced.
    Which cables have you chosen over and above Linn Silvers to remove the harshness you've experienced please? And did they bring a different compromise?

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  4. I am sorry fot he late reply.
    I chose Bertram Cuprio. I also liked Cardas Clear (but it is more expensive). Both cables are made of copper and bring better resolution and better tonal balance. Unlike Silvers, none of them give any harshness. Their price is a not as attractive as Silver's, but taking into account the price of Akurate and Klimax electronics even the price of Clear interconnects does not seem so high.
    I am sure that there are more great copper cables on the market (I am not a fun of silver-plated cables - in my experience they change tonal balance), but I have not got a chance to hear them.

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