Monday, 24 November 2014

Preparation For The Hifi Show 2015

Been thinking through what I would like to exhibit if given the opportunity at The Hifi Show in March 2015.  Many options and configs have lead to this. I wanted to go with as compact an Linn active system as possible, so it starts with a FiiO x3 and finishes with Katans. Shame the amp has to be so big, but there are active crossovers and 4 power amps in there.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Acitvating Katans With AV5125

In this post there's a pictorial explanation of changing Linn's 2-way Katan speaker from passive operation to bi-active using stereo active cards inside a Linn AV5125 power amp.  They're in sequence order.

NOTE:  IF YOU ARE AT ALL UNSURE OR LACK CONFIDENCE, TAKE THE SPEAKERS AND AMP TO A LINN DEALER TO HAVE THIS WORK DONE.

THE SEQUENCE BELOW ARE THE STEPS I TOOK TO SUCCESSFULLY MAKE THIS CONVERSION.  IT WAS SUCCESSFUL FOR ME, BUT NO RESPONSIBILITY IS TAKEN FOR THE ACCURACY, OR OTHERWISE, OF THIS INFORMATION.

In original single wired passive form.  By removing all the collars on the terminals, the configuration cards that are recessed into the back of the speaker cabinet can be lifted out


Collars removed - each side of the configuration card there is a recess in the speaker cabinet, allowing for access to lift the cards out
There are 2 configuration cards.  Each one has a different configuration on each side - in this case 'single wire passive' is on one side of both cards.  Put the unwanted configurations back onto the connection terminals first, then the card you require with the required configuration facing outwards, then refit the terminal collars.
This is the reverse side of the 2 cards shown in the picture above.  Choices here are 'Katan active' and 'Katan bi-wire passive'
The 'Katan bi-wire passive' card has been fitted onto the terminals, then this 'Katan active' card has been laid on top
Collars are fastened back on and tightened.  Any blanking plugs inside the terminals need to be moved to new positions, freeing up the appropriate connections for active use.  Here I've used red = bass +ve; black = bass -ve; yellow = treble +ve, grey = treble -ve
Now to the amp.  Switch off and unplug the amp and disconnect the mains cable! Laying on a firm but covered surface (to protect the finish) top downwards, the amp looks like this.  There are 4 self tapping screws along the silver section which need to be removed.
The cover of the amp can then be slid off - the amp chassis slides out of the back of the cover.  Once removed, place the cover out of the way and somewhere where it won't get damaged.  Place the amp chassis on your work surface, base side down.
BEFORE PROCEEDING FURTHER, YOU MUST TAKE ANTI-STATIC PRECAUTIONS BY EARTHING THE AMP CHASSIS AND WEARING AN EARTHED ANTI-STATIC STRAP.  IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THESE ARE OR HOW TO USE THEM, STOP NOW AND TAKE YOUR KIT TO A DEALER.  STATIC ELECTRICITY CAN DAMAGE THE CIRCUITRY!

This is the amp chassis without any active cards or support fittings.  The stereo active cards are going to be fitted top left in this picture - across the back of the amp
To fit the cards, the plastic circuit board stand-offs and screw are required.  These are usually inside the amplifier.  However, many amps will not have these installed as they have gone missing over the lifetime of the amp.  If your amp is missing these, or the ones for the mono card, please get in touch as I have complete sets available for purchase.
In the full kit there are long, medium and short stand-offs with a protruding thread at one end and a recessed thread at the other.  There is also one very small stand-off with recessed threads at each end.  The tall stand-off and the very small stand-off with recessed threads at both ends are used only for the mono card.  Fitting the stereo cards as described here uses the medium and short stand-offs that have a protruding thread at one end and recessed thread at the other, along with a short screw.  These are the stand-offs shown above



Fit the medium stand-off as shown above, into the threaded hole at the rear left of the amp.  Finger tight is enough - the threads are only plastic, so please take care.  A second picture of the medium stand-off is shown below.



ALSO NOTE THAT I HAVE FITTED THE BASS CARD INTO THE LOWER SLOT AND THE TREBLE CARD INTO THE UPPER SLOT.  ALL THE STEPS DESCRIBE THE SEQUENCE I USED FOR FITTING THE CARDS THIS WAY AROUND.  THEY CAN BE FITTED THE OTHER WAY AROUND, BUT CONNECTIONS WILL BE DIFFERENT, SO TAKE CARE.

A stereo active card.  This is the bass card for a Tukan (or a Katan, or a Sekrit)
For the first card being fitted, fit the short connection cable as shown above
Now slide the card into the lower set of slots in the back of the amp (you can see the green tabs of the card peeping through the amp's back panel).  The slots are the same height in the amp as the top of the medium stand-off fitted earlier
Another view of the first card sitting in situ.  Note that the card sits neatly on top of the medium stand-off fitted earlier
Now connect the connecting cable into the amp board as shown - channels 4 & 5.  In my install this is the bass card, so now Channels 4 and 5 will output bass information

Now fit the short standoff by feeding it through the installed card and then tightening into the thread of the medium stand-off.  Again, finger tight only - take it gently!

Now, repeat the last few steps with the top card, fitting the longer cable and sliding the card into the top slots in the back panel of the amp.  Connect the cable into the port on the amp labelled Channel 2 & 3.  In my install this is the treble card, so now Channels 2 and 3 will output treble information

If the card is fitted with the treble adjustment control, push out the black blanking plug to allow the control to protrude through the back panel.  Here the cards are both installed, the green tabs can be seen through the back panel, as can be the white treble control knob

Now fit the short screw through the top card and into the short stand-off.  Again, tighten enough just to hold the card in place - don't strip the thread or put the card under any pressure

Put the case back on the amp and refit the 4 screws in the bottom of the amp casing

NOW FOR CABLING.  AGAIN NOTE THAT THE SEQUENCE SHOWN BELOW IS CORRECT FOR THE WAY THAT I INSTALLED THE CARDS - BASS ON THE LOWER SLOT, TREBLE ON THE TOP SLOT.  IF YOU HAVE PUT THE CARDS IN THE OTHER WAY AROUND, THIS CABLING SEQUENCE IS NOT APPROPRIATE!

The way I installed the cards means:

Channels 2 and 3 are Treble
Channels 4 and 5 are Bass
If you have the labels that come with the active cards, now is the time to label up each channel on the back panel!

Connect an interconnect from Channel 2 output (in this case, this is Treble right) to Channel 4 input (in this case, Bass right).  If your interconnect claims to be directional, the arrows should point from Channel 2 to Channel 4

Repeat this with an interconnect from Channel 3 output (in this case, this is Treble left) to Channel 5 input (in this case, Bass left).  If your interconnect claims to be directional, the arrows should point from Channel 3 to Channel 5 


Now fit the interconnects from the pre-amplifier.  Here, Channels 2 and 4 serve the right speaker and so the right interconnect is connected to the input on Channel 2.
Channels 3 and 5 serve the left speaker so the left interconnect from the pre-amp is connected to the input on Channel 3.


Now connect up the speaker cables.  Note that they must match the outputs from the amp:  treble to treble, bass to bass.  Following through the colour coding I connected to the Katans, here Channel 2 yellow / grey go to the right Katan treble input, Channel 3 yellow / grey go to the left Katan treble, Channel 4 red / black go to right Katan bass; Channel 5 red / black go to left Katan bass.  Be careful to observe the correct polarity of connection throughout.

And thats the job done.

NOW CHECK ALL YOUR WIRING FROM END TO END, AT LEAST TWICE!   IF YOU ARE NOT SURE, GO TO YOUR DEALER!

Now disconnect your anti-static strap and refit the cover (by reversing the removal procedure).

Before you switch on your system, ensure the volume control is set to zero.  Now, play a track very very very quietly.  Check each speaker - make sure treble sounds are coming out of the tweeter and bass sounds are coming out of the bass driver on both speakers.  If not, immediately switch off and re-check all the connection paths.

Once you're sure that you're hearing the right sounds from the right drivers, turn up a little and re-check.  If its still all OK, enjoy your music!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Sneeker Part 2

A couple of weeks back a post on the Linn forum inspired me to dig out some Linn ceiling speakers that had been in the garage for a while, and build a "portable" Linn based box.

It filled a couple of hours, but the results weren't too good - cardboard might be quick to use, but its not too good structurally, nor sonically.  Not a surprise really.

The blog post is at Sneeker Part 1.



A few days ago I dismantled the box.  The plan was to think about Part 2 and turning the box into something more substantial.  When taking out the Linn Diskreet speakers, I found I could remove the crossovers and drivers from the frame quite easily.  Turns out they're only 100mm coaxials inside, looking rather like car speakers.  They're the same size as the woefully cheap speakers in my touring caravan, so that's where they're going.

So what next?  Well, there are few bits and pieces in the garage, so I dug out some old Linn tweeters (probably from the Index 2, but not sure really) and some Mission 100mm mid-bass drivers.  I've also found a cabinet on ebay - more of which later.  But its going to be a luggable solution rather than a portable one, methinks.

So I've used some scrap board from the garage which is now cut to the same size as the cabinet that's on its way, so I can experiment with speaker layouts.  Below are the options I've considered:





Imagine that there's this config at each end of the board - as a mirrored layout.  I'll ask around on the forums now to find out if anyone has any opinions on which layout will work best.  Imaging will be difficult in such a small space, but that's what I'd like to optimise - might just have to cut the scrap boards and give each a try.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Home From Home At The Pub - Spiritland

A visit to a "temporary takeover" club tonight, deep in the heart of achingly hip Shoreditch, East London.

Thanks to hifiwigwam.com, my attention was brought to the transformation of a East London pub into a music listening venue.  Kind of DJs without a dance floor.  Or "my favourite tunes".  But to differentiate itself, this 3 month "takeover" night uses hifi modified Technics turntables, valve amps and massive Tannoy speakers.  Intriguing.

On the way, I called in at the The Book Club Bar on Leonard Street for a veggie platter. Good grub,  interesting decor. 
Some less than cheerful (but very good) artwork at The Book Club - yours for £1400
Is it a crow?  Is it a robot?  Dunno, somehow reminds me of the really grumpy blue bloke in the Muppets
So the transformed pub lounge is at the Merchants Tavern on Charlotte Road, just around the corner from The Book Club.  It's blessed with a high ceiling and almost floor to ceiling front windows.  As you enter the central door, there's a U-shaped (predominantly cocktail) bar on the right, the restaurant straight ahead across the back of the building and the lounge area to the left.  The decor is robust and wooden.  The lounge area a mix of comfy chairs and tables & chairs somewhat more cafe-like. There's a wood burning stove at the back of the lounge.
Tonight the place is surprisingly busy for a Tuesday evening.  Pretty much every chair is occupied and the restaurant looks like its generating brisk business too.  There's a buzz, but its of relaxed chat rather than anything raucous.  This is not a place where you need to shout to your mates to be heard.

Merchants Tavern in Charlotte Road
Even when there's not a resident hifi, the background music is taken care of by respected hifi brand Quad
Straight to the bar of course - there's a cocktail menu, which seems to be the favourite style of drink here, only 3 electrically pumped beers and lots of choice of stuff in bottles.  Beer is £4.90 a pint, cocktails from £8.50, wine from £5 a glass and Scottish malt from £6 to £40. So, pretty much normal London pub prices really - there's no entrance fee.  The bar staff are friendly and helpful, but the bar would be significantly enhanced by a selection of traditional ales.  I choose a Pilsner and settle down at the end of the bar on a high stool to check out the view of the lounge area and the main attraction - the music system.

The customers in the lounge are a mix of 20 to 35 years olds in the main, with a smattering of olders such as myself.  The music system is arranged across the back wall of the lounge and there's no missing those imposing Tannoy speakers.  The music is on pretty quietly, so really the system is not being shown off.  The DJs are choosing their vinyl and playing what they want to play.  Every night is themed and the schedule can be found on the www.spiritland.club website.  Tonight its mainly folk and ethereal type stuff, including some of medieval style tracks.  The DJs are helpfully placing the album covers on a stand so you know what's playing.  There's no dance floor, there's no banter from the DJs, its about the music.

View from the wood burning stove
Around the back of the decks is the resident vinyl collection, supplemented by the DJs' own records.


Tonight, the DJ pairing is Will Hodgkinson, rock & pop critic at The Times and Julian Mash.  I don't think they used the pair of broadcast standard CD players whilst I was there, preferring to get their hands on the modified Technics turntables - sporting Isonoe modifications including the tonearms which look like they're based on the very popular Rega products.

Pair of Technics 1210 turntables, modified by Isonoe and fitted with Rega based tonearms
The decks fed into a mixer which passes the signal along to a fine looking pair of Canary valve amps, given pride of place on top of the vinyl racks - these have been supplied by www.definitiveaudio.com

  • Canary M500 Mono Blocks with 300B Triode Tubes
The Tannoy Westminster GR speakers finished the system off - and its a good job that the pub is spacious!  A kit list here.
Tannoys.  A domestic loudspeaker, apparently
Being very restrained, and appropriate to the type of music being played tonight, the system was on pretty quietly to allow the punters to chat rather than shout.  The volume seems to be inversely proportional to the number of customers - as the bar thinned out, so the volume became louder. But it was never loud.

How did all this sound?  Well, that's a tough one to answer - other than to say it was super smooth with no edges nor reasons to wince.  I'm not really a fan of the big Tannoys - I've heard various variants over the years and they always seem to be smooth and slightly over polite - to the point of lacking excitement.  But its not fair to draw conclusions here tonight on this system - its too noisy in the room, and the music choice is deliberately low key and laid back.  Pleasant enough sounds a bit like faint praise, but it isn't meant that way - it was entirely appropriate to tonight's music, tonight's customers and the vibe in the venue.  Hopefully one of my subsequent visits will demonstrate the Tannoys in a different light - it will depend on the music and the willingness of the audience to "crank it up a little".

I had a quick chat with Will about the concept of the "club" and he suggested that the promoter might like some feedback - so we were introduced.  Paul Noble is an ex-BBC radio producer, really nice bloke, and now a club promoter with a difference - a focus on high quality music reproduction.  His day job is with www.monocle.com, looking after music consultancy for a number of well known brands.  Paul introduces himself - he's Creative Director at Spiritland - with the above history / background and explains that the idea for Spiritland came from his love of music, hearing it well produced, his personal audiophile journey and the lack of anything similar - I'm guessing he's creating the kind of venue and vibe he'd enjoy when choosing a venue for a night out.  Music will range across jazz, folk, classic rock, soul, funk and more from the past 60 years.
We talk a little about hifi - audiophilemusings.co.uk, hifiwigwam.com and my own system,   preferences for vinyl vs CD vs streaming and such. Looks like Paul will be planning to visit The Hifi Show next year if he can make it.  Paul's clearly very enthusiastic about what he's created here at the Merchants Tavern and he has both an impressive and eclectic line up of music and DJs planned over the next couple of months.  Its a mix of friends, personal favourites and willing volunteers that form the line up, including the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Hot Chip.  Future spinners include a label A&R guy, producers, DJs, band members, Radio 3 presenter and an immersive night of Prince's music.
The club at the Merchants is a taster / trial / trail of the future plan - a members club in a more central part of London with a restaurant, bar and lounge.  The common theme across the 3 rooms will be high quality music playing through high quality systems - with the volume appropriate to each room. The bar will likely be the chatting room with the lounge more focussed on listening to the music with the focus on the best system in the house.  We muse a bit on the idea of a headphone bar - playing the same music as that in the room - but with different brands and models to be trialled.  Perhaps there will be "guest systems" in one of the rooms too.

I wish Paul well with his venture.  Its something different, refreshing and deserves to succeed.  I've got an easy choice of venue when down in London on business now - Spiritland will be my default evening of choice during its 3 month run.

Even the loos have a well respected budget speaker brand