Thursday, 30 March 2017

Linn Exakt and Kudos Super 20: World First Review

There's a bit of a back story, so please bear with me.

First, I'm going to assume a working knowledge of Linn Exakt and what it can do to process the musical signal coming from a DAC, through a set of power amps and on to each driver in a loudspeaker.  If you're not so sure, you can follow these links for some more information:

Also, there's lots on the blog about my current system of Linn Akurate Exakt and PMC Twenty.26 which forms the basis of comparison here, so have a dig around if you need to catch up on the reference point for this review.  But before the PMCs, I tried some different options, one of which was the Kudos Super 20.  At the time, this was with a Linn Klimax system using a more traditional, passively driven, approach.  That review is here, but to summarise on my view of the Super 20s in that system in my room:
"So its a mixed bag.  I really understand why they're a good seller and why their owners enjoy them so much - I get the appeal of the etched instruments, I get the speed, I get the way they do female vocals. If I was in the market for speakers at this price point, I would say that they could be on a short list. But I need to relax into my music.  I like chilled out music to wash into the room and give a warm feeling as I sit back after work and wind down. When a system doesn't let me do this, its not right for me.  Others will have a different view.
As such, these aren't the right speakers for me or my room.  They're different to the M140s, but they're not the right mix of abilities to justify a change to the Super 20s.  I'm looking for a bigger difference, but perhaps, more of what I have, rather than a different direction."
 
So not a ringing endorsement in my system and room, but certainly something to consider in the right size room - they work well in their owner's own listening room which is somewhat smaller in volume than my own room.

Kudos Get Activated
Since then, Kudos have committed to delivering all their "upper" range speakers (at the moment, that's Super 10, Super 20, T-707 and T-808) with the ability to run with active amplification - ie, the passive crossover in the loudspeaker is by-passed, an active crossover is placed in front of the power amplifiers and each power amp channel controls just one driver each. This has been successful for T-808 with both Linn Exakt and Devialet implementations which you can read about at those links. Most recently, I had my first taste of Kudos's newly launched T-707 being partnered with Naim electronics including a SNAXO active crossover. This is a deeply impressive combination, heard at the Chester Hifi Show 2017.

A little while ago, the Super 20 (re-named 20a) has been treated to the Kudos connection panel which allows passive or active use of the speaker. Conversion from passive to active is extremely simple - just pull out 4 jumper hoops and connect your amps to the appropriate driver connections. So simple, in fact, that Kudos don't explain how this is done on their instruction sheet. Perhaps there is an expectation that the dealer is involved in most installations.

New Kudos Super 20a ready for listening
 Review Caveats
There are a couple of caveats to this review to bear in mind. First, and crucially, we had a pretty much brand new demo pair to work with. So new, the Cherry veneer was still very pale indeed - I know this darkens over time to something much deeper and richer. We estimated the speakers had about 50 hours of use on them - this is important to bear in mind as you read the review, as speakers often take a while to settle down or 'break-in' from new and their character can change a surprising amount over this time. Second, we only had a 3 hour window to work within, so there's a chance there may be more to come given more set up time - on this one, we saved a good chunk of time by going straight to the speaker position we'd found had worked best for the speakers in passive form. I think that's a very reasonable approach to take and should result in something pretty close to optimal.

Local friend R has earlier passive Super 20s in a Naim NDS/555, 282/Supercap DR and 250DR system with SuperLumina cables throughout. This lot feed a pair of the earlier Super 20s which don't permit active operation. This means there are 2 of us with experience or extensive experience of the Super 20s in this system. R's Super 20s are the ones reviewed in my previously passive Linn Klimax system. This gave the opportunity to directly compare the brand new speakers against a set with thousands of hours of use. Hence the first caveat - straight out of the box the newer pair were over bright and the bass was 'stiff' and inarticulate in comparison. To the extent that both of us found listening rather tiring. So they were left playing away to themselves, facing each other with one out of phase to reduce the amount of sound they produced. This is how we know they have at least 50 hours of music under their belts.

Set Up
Distinguishing the Super 20a from the Super 20 is the connection panel. At the base are the normal single-wire passive inputs. The second row down are normally vertically linked to the top row by u-shaped links during passive operation.  Here the top row of connections are being fed active treble and bass signals from Naim SuperLumina cables.

So some perspective from the above in the context of a familiar system and a current (very happy) owner.
2 days later and they're set up in the Musings listening room, positioned where the passive pair had sounded best. A quick look at the brief instructions soon told us that we had to work out the active connectivity ourselves, but it is simple. Pull out the 4 connecting loops and hook up the correct speaker cable to their respective 'active treble' or 'active bass' connection.  Linn Konfig was spun up on the laptop and the Exakt filters for the Super 20s were selected from the menu and installed into the Exaktbox whilst the power amps were still switched off. After confirming the Exaktbox connections against the Konfig diagram, it only took 15 minutes or so for everything to be ready to go. As is the way with active systems - care with connecting is critical.  Connect a bass channel to the tweeter and you can expect a short puff of smoke, silence and a bad smell.  So the bass driver is always connected first - if you accidentally send treble information to this driver its no big deal.  So make sure the bass drivers are connected then listen to music at low volume and make sure the bass driver is producing bass.  If its all good, then connect up the treble and listen to it very quietly to make sure its only handling treble.  If all is good, on with the music...

System

Here's the system driving the Super 20a with an Exakt feed, in source to speaker order:

  • 16 bit and 24 bit uncompressed FLAC files
  • QNAP 251 NAS with WD Red drives
  • Minimserver UPnP database
  • Cat 7 ethernet cable
  • Netgear GS-108T network switch with Friwo medical PSU
  • Chord Anthem streaming cable
  • Linn Akurate Exakt DSM streamer / Pre-amp (with power from PS Audio P5 regenerator)
  • Chord C-Stream streaming cable
  • Linn Akurate Exaktbox 10 DAC/processor (with power from PS Audio P5 regenerator)
  • Linn "silver" analogue interconnects
  • 2x Linn Akurate 4200/1 power amps (with power directly from the mains)
  • 2x 3m pairs of Naim SuperLumina speaker cables
  • All electronics supported by Cyrus Isoplats on Quadraspire EVO racks

 Tracks used:
  • Falling Out of Love - Mary Gauthier
  • Six Blade Knife (24 bit from DSD) - Dire Straits
  • Gula - Deadmau5
  • Keith Don't Go - Nils Lofgren
  • Fender Bender - Chris Jones
  • Breathe You In (ft. Laura Hahn) - Ficci
  • Wicked Game - London Grammar
  • Walking With Elephants - Ten Walls

First Impressions


Here you can see how fresh the Cherry veneer is on this pair - contrast with the Quadraspire cherry shelves.  Akurate Exakt DSM is on the far right hand rack, the Exaktbox 10 is on the middle shelf under the TV with the 2x 4-channel 4200/1 power amps on the lowest shelf
 
That brightness noted in R's home system was still in evidence here, making the system difficult to listen to, but bear with me as this isn't the end game here.  One thing we also noticed immediately was the articulation, drive and rhythm in the bass line - although there were some room modes being driven here, leading to a touch of boom - that initial stiffness noted at first listen in R's system isn't evident in the Exakt system - either due to the different system, some benefits of the 50 hours of playing time, or perhaps a combination of both. Vocals immediately stood out as crisp and clear with tone and intonation clear in the expression of the words.  So, some work to do.  I think it would've been good to leave them playing for a couple more days, but time was against us.

SPACE

Turning once again to Linn Konfig, the first thing to address was the room modes which were giving a touch of boom in the room - it wasn't at all excessive, but it was there.  Whilst the room measurements themselves were untouched, the position of the speakers in the room was amended to suit the positions of the Kudos boxes and the optimise button was pressed.  The newer SPACE implementation - where each left / right speaker receives different settings - was evident in the profile graph - much more so than with the PMC 26s.  This brought an immediate improvement to the punchiness, tunefulness and articulation of bass line.  But it was a touch light so we took a couple of dB out of the notch and narrowed it significantly and that worked a treat.  As usual with SPACE this opened out the mid-range and treble too - a mixed blessing.
Sometimes, its possible to tackle some vocal harshness by adding notches in space in the 65 to 74Hz range and whilst these gave some subtle benefit, it just wasn't significant.  So we moved up the range and added a -1.8 then -2.0dB treble shelf which Linn allows you to add from 8kHz upwards - and this was a little helpful, but not the answer.  So that was moved up to 17kHz and then we added a custom filter - a -2dB dip centred around 8.5kHz but with a very high width value which effectively gave us a 3.5kHz to 17kHz wide shelf. And that really hit the spot.  Notching this down to -3dB across the same frequency range got us to the right place.  Everything clicked at that point and we started to settle down into listening to the music rather than to the system and its tendancy to spotlight every single thing in the upper frequencies.  This is the first caveat - it would be great to get the speakers back again soon when they've had a lot more hours of use - to see if this treble attenuation can be dropped over time as the speakers break-in.

Listening to Music

So now we had a very satisfactory sounding system, we cracked on with listening to some tracks.  Bear in mind here that R has been listening to these speakers for around 3 years now and has been through a good few system upgrades during that time, so he's very familiar with their capabilities.  It turns out, whilst they might be familiar, they haven't really reached their full potential in the Naim passive system. What we heard in about 90 minutes of listening with Exakt was a revelation.  These speakers, whilst not carrying the same weight and authority as the PMCs (which have a somewhat larger visual and physical presence in the room), they're no longer out of their depth in my room.  They go astoundingly deep from such a small box, with plenty of drive and give a bass line that, had we not already heard the PMCs, would be thought of as very good indeed - add in their relatively small dimensions and that makes them quite remarkable in this area.  Tunes that needed to boogie along did so, attack is good as is the timing of the tune.
What about detail? Well, its astounding - these speakers really can resolve tiny tiny details that is beyond the capabilities of the PMCs and significantly beyond how they sound at home in the passive system. Both acoustic guitar tracks (Lofgren and Chris Jones) deliver string sounds that are crisp, clear and easy to pick out - delivering initial attack in spades and long long decays into the background. Spitty anger in Mary Gauthier's voice make you feel a bit uncomfortable and pleased that you're not the subject of her aggression. Vocals are superb - a good bit more texture, inflexion and intent than with the PMCs.  Imaging is spot on too - rock solid, easy to place, 3 dimensional and a little unsettling on those tracks (such as Ficci) that use processing to give a wrap-around effect in the room.
Is there a downside? Well, its difficult to find anything to fault but I would prefer a little more subtlety in treble leading edges - R found it just to his taste, for me its still a bit sharp.

But here's the thing - throughout, we could both follow tunes and feet were tapping - and I mean throughout. On top of that, R kept giving little involuntary smiles and shaking his head in disbelief.  These speakers are very much more capable than either of us really knew and Exakt with active amplification has brought that out from under the covers of passive operation.

I'll leave it with some of R's words - stunning, outstanding, and several more that I won't repeat in a public forum.

Post Script

We hope to get the speakers back again in a couple of weeks time to follow up on if they've settled in and need less treble attenuation - if this happens I'll report back here.  Also, after the Super 20s left the building, the SuperLumina speaker cable stayed in the house for a little longer.  Interestingly, using this cable on the treble of the PMCs reduced the gap in detail resolution by about 50%, bringing the PMCs closer to the Kudos boxes in this area.  Would I swap the PMCs for a pair of Super 20s? No, but that's no reflection on the capabilities of the Super 20a, more that there is a different set of priorities from which to choose.  Having lived with the superb bass performance of the PMCs, their relative lower level of detail resolution and lesser capabilities in vocal resolution are a reasonable compromise to live with.  And I'd be looking for a substantial improvement if moving on - not a different compromise.  Roll-on the Kudos T-606 in the summer! 


Thanks to Kudos and Acoustica for the loan of the speakers.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Scalford 2017 - Adventures in SPACE in Room 237

Some notes and thoughts about exhibiting at the Hifi Wigwam show this year.

Prep started a few weeks in advance on building a checklist, choosing music and printing the kit list, door signs etc. etc. The weekend before a few network cables were disconnected from the house network and connected up to a stand alone router so that there is a small self-contained router of streamer, router and laptop - just as it would need to be at the show.  With AssetDB running on the laptop and around 250 tracks in the database all the set up stuff was tested - database, Linn Konfig, SPACE, Linn Kazoo etc.  Checked on 2 laptops too to make sure a standby was available.  Lots and lots of boxes and spare bits of quadraspire extracted from the loft and tools and spare cables put into crates.  The day before was packing of gear into boxes and checking through the checklist - several times.

Saturday of the weekend started early and boxes packed into the car by about 10am ready for the 2.5 hour drive cross-country to Scalford near Melton Mowbray.

Room for Richard, but not much
With boxes and Richard packed into the car the adventure begins. We left a bit earlier this year to enable us to set the system up in good time and there was the Linn demo to attend in the afternoon.  Uneventful journey (well, apart from a small detour) meant arrival in time to enjoy the first innovation for 2017 - lunch butties and a cuppa on the Wigwam house. Room 237 is an upstairs bedroom as far as it is possible to get from the hotel entrance. Not too bad though as there's a fire exit door just downstairs and it was possible to get the car quite close to this.  It took about 90 minutes to shift the beds in the room, carry boxes in, unpack them and get the gear at least connected up.

The Linn Exakt.Design launch demo was a good excuse for a break, mid-afternoon.  The engineering team (no marketing) did demos of music played through minimum phase crossovers compared with phase linear (well, more phase linear) digital Exakt crossovers into a pair of modified Wilmslow Audio kit speakers.  A convincing demo, well presented.  They used graphs too which appealed to many of the Wammers.  We didn't hang around for the workshop portion, we had our own Exakt system to set up.  Interesting that Linn are looking to make it available to DIY people to design Exakt crossovers.

We spent about an hour moving the speakers around using tune-dem - the room is all partition walls, ceiling, bouncy floor, a big built-in wardrobe and only the wall behind the speakers is actually solid (but dry lined) and it was nearly 50% window. So we put a lot of time into getting the best sound without SPACE room optimisation.


Remembering Harv's experiences and solution last year, we added some marble slabs under the speakers which helped again (and inspired others in the building!). So after that we measured all the room dimensions, speaker positions etc.  Then, as is the way of SPACE room opimisation, we focussed very heavily on the first room mode and adding / removing the sub first mode. This took another hour. At that point the system was sounding very good and it was time for curry and beer on the Saturday night. After the grub (some of which I ended up wearing, but we'll not go too much into that) we invited the Linn guys up for a listen and they were polite enough (or perhaps genuinely enjoying, which Philbo seems to have done) to hang around for well over an hour in the room. Then we had more visitors and then it was time to sleep (which meant stacking all the chairs away and rescuing our beds from the en-suite).

All set up, including marble slabs and the monitor showing Linn Kazoo - here show the track listing, but also showing album art and track info when a track is playing

There's nothing like having Linn's Exakt.Design software team, the Speaker Hobbit and the Engineering Director listening to your pride and joy after a couple of hours set up in an unfamiliar room to help you relax into the weekend...thankfully the Doombar was helping calm the nerves.

SPACE optimisation calculates room modes that will affect the listening positiong below 100Hz and then applies the notches seen above to reduce their effect.

 The first room mode (the biggie) was reduced by 1.5dB and narrowed by 0.02. The first custom filter below the first room mode is one of Linn Forum member Paulssuround's "below 1st base" filters from my home which we tried on and off with on being marginally better - it could probably have benefited from lots more experimentation but there just isn't the time at the show. There are a couple of "vocal" custom filters in there, also from home which remained untouched from the home values.
Speakers had more toe-in than at home (the side walls are much closer) with the RH speaker having more toe-in than the LH speaker - I think due to a step in the RH wall about 2/3s of the room length back from the speakers. That step in the side wall was for a built-in wardrobe which we stuffed full of duvets and pillows as it was horribly resonant when empty. The listening position we compromised on - it is deliberately off-centre and actually sits between rows 2 and 3. Row 2 positioning was better if you were in Row 2, but significantly worse in Row 3, hence the compromise.
Twin beds (not shown) are on their ends in the en-suite...

So there just isn't time to go into everything. We really had sorted out the room modes and that was the biggest challenge. On Sunday we just played music and never touched any other settings - the 1 hour 15 mins of Win 10 updates first thing in the morning was stressful enough!

We hosted a brief meeting of cyrusunofficial members around mid-day


Being out in the "sticks" of the hotel, we were very quiet for the first hour with only 3 visitors.  But after 11 it ramped up quickly and then it was busy all day, sometimes it wasn't possible for visitors to get in the room.  A good lesson for visitors though - get there early and head for the farthest reaches of the hotel - the rooms will be quiet and easy to get into. Many visitors commented on how we'd achieved a deep but taught sound in the room which the regulars know are very difficult rooms, due to their construction. That lead on to a good few conversations about SPACE and showing the Konfig graphs on the monitor.  We had lots of re-visits during the day and some who stayed in the room for over an hour.

Busy room

Of course, there was all the packing away again which took us an hour and 20 minutes (3 of us working on this) pleased the system is all back up and running at home, but there are still a lot of boxes to go back up into the loft - a week later.

So its quite some commitment, exhibiting at the show.  But its also strangely rewarding.  The atmosphere in the hotel is something unique and special, particularly the opportunity to wander around with a beer on Saturday night - otherwise you miss a lot when exhibiting.  Thank you to Richard and my brother John for the hard work with the equipment and taking their share of room hosting - it wouldn't be possible without them and they're good company to. Thanks to the Wigwam team for making it all happen, the hotel staff for putting up with us crazy people, to the commercial rooms who make it viable and to all the other exhibitors without whom it would be a non-event. A big thanks to my family for putting up with the disruption and giving me the time.

Some comments from around the forums:

PFM

andrews:  "My first experience of an Linn Exakt set up ... dare I add that I thought this (possibly) the 'best' sound of the show"

linnfomaniac: "Sunbeamgls, your system was lovely too (but as a fellow Linnie, I didn't think I'd be disappointed)"


CYRUSUNOFFICIAL:

David H: "Thanks to sunbeamgls for letting us enjoy his superb Linn system"

mickbald: "(Sunbeam) Linn room optimisation software was really interesting. Sounded fantastic."

SAP7: "the rather lovely 26s have me hankering after 24s"

LINN FORUM:

Phil Budd (Philbo): "loved the sound you are getting from the 26s"

HIFI WIGWAM:

insider9: "Having gone to Scalford I was really inspired and really amazed what can be achieved at a relatively low cost. Yes, the Linn & PMC (in Sunbeamgls's room) wasn't in the low cost category but the level of clarity I've heard haunts me. To that extent that I'm considering wholesale changes to my system. If I can at least go some of the distance at a low budget, I need to try...the overall quality was just stunning. I think I mentioned to you at a time how amazed I was what you managed to achieve with the large size of speakers in such small room and at a moderate volume."

Harv: "Sunbeamgls system sounded nice and taut"

aggers: (referring to the Linn Exakt demo) "Sunbeamgls had a similar system. Very sweet sounding."

Gizza: "great respect for the hard work you put in to maximise the sound quality. Great to see that it paid off, too"

navigator: "Sunbeams room had an easy listen clear balance achieved in a tacky room"

Rob5ft19ins: "Wonderful to see the efforts that went into making your room sound so sweet. I sadly managed only a minute or two in there to appreciate it, but was hugely impressed by what I heard"

steveeg: "the things that got me going back for more...Sunbeamgls's Linn system - plus a super nice bloke with a tremendous playlist of stellar tracks"


And one last photo, courtesy of Hifi Wigwam member Bazzer:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Chester Hifi Show 2017 - Naim, Kudos T-707, Dynaudio, Arcam and more

As usual, the (Acoustica) Chester Hifi Show ran in early March for 2017 - based at the DoubleTree hotel on the East side of Chester.  A small show with around 15 or so rooms, easily accessible, not too busy and, of course, free to enter.

A gave a little (but not too much) thought on how to present today's listening, but then just decided to go with the order in which I wandered around the rooms.  Which is not at all logical in terms of the layout of the hotel as I'd promised to wait for a couple of friends to join me before going in the Kudos room, as there was much anticipation about the new T-707s.  So here they are, as they were visited:

ARCAM and B&W Home Cinema Room

Here Arcam were running their FMJ multi-format disc spinner into their top-of-the-range £4,500 AV receiver.  Around the room are a variety of B&W Diamond D3 speakers (I think the fronts were 802 and the rears were the standmounts) with a couple of tiny Atmos overhead speakers rigged up on a frame - at least one sub sat behind the screen.  So this is a seriously priced AV system.


When I went in, Jon Bon Jovi was playing so I settled in to watch the concert for a bit.  It was, well, rather dull.  Bass was indistinct and there was no sparkle to the sound.  I didn't find myself tapping my foot along to the music, even though there were clearly many in the concert audience boogieing along to the music.  We then had a brief talk about the design of the receiver amps being a blend of Class A and Class AB dubbed by Arcam as Class G, and how this was to make sure that this AV receiver would be as good with music as it would be with movies.  The Bon Jovi track apparently had been playing only through the front left and right speakers to prove how good the system is at music.  I'm hoping it was a badly recorded track or something.
Then on to some movie stuff ("Hollywood") with a clip from a Mad Max film (I think it was Mad Max) which is full of action, car chase, crashes and explosions.  And this was good, seriously good.  The detail and the steering of that detail around and above is very convincing.  Of course, the crash bang wallop was great too - and, thankfully, not wacked up to a massive volume to try and impress.  This was controlled, impactful, detailed but not OTT like so many AV demos can be.  Very good.  Not quite up to the standard of the full-on Arcam separates and KEF Reference system at Indulgence 2016, but not far off given how much less expensive the electronics are in this system.


I called back in later to some Bruce Springsteen which was better than the Bon Jovi, but not enough to make me want to sit and listen.

ON THE LANDING

An attractive collection of  Rega decks, although, unless I missed it, there wasn't a Rega room this year - usually they make a very good sound with modestly priced gear.



Chord also have a dem room on the upper floor.  I generally like their cables, but the demo process takes about 45 minutes and I just didn't have the will power to sit through it today.
The Kudos room had to wait, so then on to the "main event" room for the first visit (although these notes cover both visits - I had to go back when R&P turned up just to check my thoughts).



NAIM NDS, 555, Statement S1, NAP500 and Focal Sopra No3



The main Naim event of the show was, as usual, in the largest of the dem rooms.  This year, as last year, the speakers were arranged either side of the bay window which is opposite the entrance door - this layout seems to make the best of what is a bit of an awkward room.  Over to the right was the impressively equipped Naim Fraim rack, containing an NDS streamer with a 555 power supply and, at the time we were in the room, the NAP500 power amp with its matching supply.  The rack also contained a 252 pre-amp and another 555 power supply, but these weren't in use at the time, as pre-amp duties were being handled by the Statement S1 pre-amp.

If you need to ask, you can't afford it...

This lot was feeding into my favourite of the current crop of Focal speakers, the Sopra No3 - this time in the more subdued black front and wood side panels.  More subtle than the gloss white and massively more conventional than the gloss orange.  I first heard these with the full Statement amplification and NDS / 555 in the dem room at the Naim factory, and really liked them - very tuneful and full of detail.  You can read about that visit (and the Bentley driving to get there) here.


So today, some of that magic was there - lots and lots of detail, impact, dynamics, good deep bass (plus a touch of boom from the room), clear and articulate vocals - much to admire and impress.  There was a touch too much treble which risks becoming irritating over time (the room here is much less damped than the dem room at the Naim factory), improved by moving away from the back wall of the room.  As noted last time I heard these speakers, things seem to be a bit "big" - vocals are central but not specific - its like listening to someone with a three foot wide mouth, and guitars seem to be about 6ft long.  I've noted that before with the Grand Utopias - it make for less realism for me.  So small things, but they can detract enough to mean not being engaged with the music.  So an impressive system, but not an engaging one today.

A sneaky look around the back:


As Kudos were also on the first floor, it should've been there next, but I'd promised to hold on until P&R turned up, so I went off down to the long ground floor corridor of smaller (bed)rooms:


SPENDOR



I've heard some great sounding Spendors in the past, but at Indulgence 2016 and again here today, it was uninspiring.  Flat, thin, lacking dynamics, the D7 was not showing much potential.  I never even got around to asking about the electronics in use.  I was hoping the Indulgence experience had been a one-off.

DYNAUDIO CONTOUR 30 and EMIT M20

I owned a small pair of Dynaudio standmounts for a while - they were never in a main system, but when it came to time to move on, I found it very difficult to part with them.  They hung around for about another two and a half years "just in case" but an opportunity to put them back into action never occured.  So they were reluctantly sold on and their new owners got a great sounding pair of speakers for a small outlay.
Since then a couple of Dynaudios have been enjoyed at shows, mentally filed in the "they're nice enough" category.  Heard the Contour 30 for the first time at Indulgence last year where I found them (paired with Naim electronics) a good foil for the sometimes over enthusiastic Naim gear, but perhaps a little too polite?

So here are the Contour 30s again.  This time in a much smaller dem room.  Looking very well finished in a gloss white, their cast alloy baffle fitting well into the look.


Lots of Super Lumina speaker cable

An example driver and the cast baffle
Today, in this room, in this system (and, I suppose, with the music that was being played), it was a more uplifting kind of sound and I sat for a while in this room, suitably engaged by "Keith Don't Go" from Nils Lofgren, amongst other tracks.  Plenty of attack in the guitar, a good spacious sense of the venue and that "bite" in Logfren's voice was clearly projected.  Foot tapping along with the track is a good sign and there was plenty of that here.  There was a touch of boominess which is understandable in a room that's really too small for these speakers - they had to be fairly close to the corners.  So I wonder what was different this time compared to Indulgence?  I can only make reasonable assumptions as I didn't make notes on the electronics in London, but here, these Contours were being driven from some £28k or so worth of streamer, power supplies amplification and cables - so the first assumption could be that the electronics were significantly better.  The second could be the room - although this small room was probably not ideal, I think it possibly suited the speakers better than the very large room at Indulgence.  So a good result here, I went back for a second listen later as it was one of the most musical rooms at the show.

Across the corridor, Dynaudio were playing the £500 Emit 20 floorstanders (plus £350 for the stands) - they're modestly proportioned, but well finished - they don't try to be anything they're not so the finish doesn't try to look more expensive than it is, which is good, as that approach often fails.


They were being driven by one of Naim's recently introduced Unit Atom all-in-one streamer / pre-amp / power amp systems.  It's a very small box, has an attractive colour screen on the front, the Mu-so style rotary control on top and is very well built, looking every bit of its £1600.


Another foot-tapping system here.  Yes, bass is restrained a little, but not so you couldn't live without it.  The Emit's with the Uniti seem to gel very well indeed - no sign of any aggression or brightness that can cause fatigue.  Imaging is not ultra-precise but its believeable.  Tunes flow along well, the meaning in the music is very well conveyed for such a modest system.  Limited budget? Liviing with space constraints? Need something discreet?  Definitely worth a listen.

I was just about to head into the Russell K room (I had to miss it out earlier as when I arrived at the room they were just in the process of swapping speakers over so I thought I'd go back later), when the phone rang and I went back up the stairs to join P&R - their first visit to the Naim / Focal room and my second.

Then we moved on to:

KUDOS T-707 WITH NAIM SNAXO ACTIVE SYSTEM

Kudos have been the best room at this show for the past 3 years (even when launching their most modest floorstanders they've made a great sound here) so, with the T-707 just launched at the Bristol show about 3 weeks ago, anticpation was high, opportunity to disappoint therefore equally high, I suppose.

A bit of background - Kudos are big fans of making their speakers capable of working with active options from manufacturers such as Linn and Devialet.  Their current range leading T-808 has been played with passive electronics from Naim, Exakt active from Linn and active with Devialet at shows I've been to, in addition to active with Naim electronics being fed by an active Behringer crossover (which was good but not in the same league as Linn and Devialet).  The best of these was Devialet at Indulgence, although I understand the Exakt crossovers have been heavily modified since I heard them at the National Audio Show back in 2015.
The T-808 range topper comes in at £23k and is quite a large two-box cabinet.  So out of the range of most.  Kudos are now happy with the concept they used in the T-808 (e.g. the cabinet shaping, isobaric bass loading, complex flared porting, ability to easily run passive or active etc.) to roll-out the same concepts down the range into more accessible (!) pricing and suited to smaller (let's say, more UK sized) rooms.  So the T-707 scales down the 8" drivers to 7", uses one less of them, uses a single box cabinet and takes up less room in the room.  The 7" is a mid-bass that has another identical driver hidden in the cabinet, configured in isobaric mode.  For active use, 2 pairs of terminals are presented on the back panel so only 2 amp channels are needed per speaker.
A little more background - Kudos have been hoping to persuade Naim to provide a SNAXO active crossover for some time.  The design is now done (by Kudos with help from Naim) so hopefully it will just be a matter of time before it becomes available.  Naim really should do this - as we'll see below.

Today the system was Melco, NDS / 555, 252 / Supercap, SNAXO active crossover with Hi-Cap PS and 2x 250DR power amps.  Cables were, in the main, standard Naim fare (not hi-line) with the exception of the streamer to pre connection which was courtesy of Chord Sarum-T.  Sarum-T also provided connection between power amps and speakers, with the length of cables in use today just exceeding the price of the speakers themselves - at around the £13.5k mark.  Gulp.  The T-707 at Chester were finished in Tineo wood veneered sides - black oak, Tineo red and satin white are also available as standard.  Other finishes are options.






Let's get the negatives out of the way first.  There are really only 2 for me - the price, and that the room was playing its part a little today.  Boom was not really tolerable in the back row of seats, but the middle and front seats removed most of this, but there was still a touch too much.  It wasn't enough to distract though - just a hint that there's more to be had by a different set up, and Linn SPACE of course :)

If I said that I spent over 2 hours in this room, it might give an impression of just how enjoyable this Naim / Kudos active system is.  Music, music, music was what was heard in this room.  Track after track (with the exception of one rather poorly recorded Elvis track requested by a visitor) just flowed rhymically from these speakers.  Occasionally there are some bass details that aren't as well resolved as my Exakt/PMC system, but the overall set of compromises here is a much better mix.  Focal could learn from a big powerful sound that doesn't have to be over-bright, nor does a big speaker mean that instruments have to be over-large in the image.  It was impossible to drag myself away from the room - even for music I don't traditionally like.  As usual, the Kudos team encourage visitors to select music and they shy away from nothing.  This system just got on with playing tunes - there's a sense of joy in these speakers - I think the T-808 goes deeper, but somehow, in comparison with these 707s, they feel a little restrained - holding something back in case they get too excited.  The 707s feel much more like they want to get on with entertaining and being part of the party - but they still manage to be in control.  There's a sense of detail in there too, but its not the sort of detail that says "hey look at me", its just there when you seek it out.

Kicking electronic dance tracks? Hugh Masakela? Folk Rock? Sophisticated pop (think London Grammar)? Dire Straits? Mexican guitar duos? Deep electronica?  Just play whatever you like and enjoy.  For me, even more than the T-808.  I really look forward to hearing these with Klimax Katalyst Exakt.  Perhaps the Linn front end, a couple of Naim 250DRs and the T-707s could be a match made in audio heaven.  Maybe - it would be good to find out.




Top Shelf Stuff: SNAXO for T-707 on the left and its Hi-Cap PS on the right

A superb system.

Thanks to Acoustica for staging the show.  Another enjoyable and relaxed show.