Sunday, 29 May 2011

On A Mission

Local Naim enthusiast R has a new job, which is great news.  Less great is that it involves staying away from his Naim system during the week, returning at weekends.

So that could be a real downer, but R decided that he needed something to listen to his music during the week in the digs.  We dug out my portable kit and had a long natter about the best approach to take.  Whilst we listened to some music via iPod Classic (320kbps AAC files) through the Trends Audio TA10.1 integrated amp and Tangent Evo speakers we agreed that it was a decent enough sound, given the size of the amp and speakers involved.  The discussion then moved on to the "use case" and it became clear that a compact permanent system would fit the bill better than a truly portable system - R's not moving from hotel to hotel on a regular basis.

We thought about cost effective options for amps / integrated systems.  We both have Denon DM compact systems (amp / CD / Tuner) for kitchen use and they're adequate for that role but not really something you'd want to sit in front of and do some actual listening.  R has also heard an Arcam solo and was unimpressed, given the coverage its had in the press.  Thoughts turn to eBay and what the options might be if we think about used kit. I really think the TA10.1 could do the job, but R obviously feels something more substantial is required.  With both budget (Denon) and supposedly mid-range (Arcam Solo) integrated systems discounted on grounds of poor performance we moved towards integrated amps and the options there.  Sources then come to mind and we soon agreed that CD isn't a good option (R would have to take them to and from home each week) and some kind of digital file playing source would be best.  iPod?  Well, files would be best re-rippped into lossless Apple format and storage would continue to be an issue.  We've been discussing streaming options for some time and R has started ripping CDs to FLAC in anticipation of making a decision in that direction fairly soon - he's heard the Logitech Touch in action in my system and sees (and hears!) the benefits.  Being a Naim advocate meant that the UnitiQute was a possible all-in-one option and it has sounded OK on the dealer's shop floor.  But £1300 with speakers to add is a big chunk of cash to sink into a possibly temporary system and detracts from investment in the main home system.

So back to the amp.  You can seem some stuff about Cyrus in the posts below - my brother runs all Cyrus electronics and my system is running a DAC-X / PSX-R with great results.  There's one thing that Cyrus is famous for and that's their pretty much unique approach to putting all their kit into the same shoe-box size cases - somewhat more compact than the usual integrateds from other companies.  I have a couple of Logitech Touches still in their boxes ready to go into the Dining Room and Kitchen.  So a temporary source is worked out - plug a USB memory stick loaded with FLAC files into the back of the Touch and away you go.  Of course, you won't get much music on a USB stick, but it would allow us to prove the point.

At the end of the first discussion, we have a plan - Touch, Cyrus amp and some speakers.  Off R went, armed with a Touch and his eBay account for another week away.

News comes through mid-week that a Cyrus 8 has been secured on eBay at a very very good price (the silver ones seem to sell for a little less than the black ones), leaving the way clear for a bit of speaker experimentation at the following weekend.



R arrives on Friday night with said Cyrus, he's had the Touch up and running from a USB stick and there's a 2TB portable desktop drive waiting to receive lots of ripped CDs. One day (actually it might be a few days effort) I'll put a whole page up on the blog about some experimentation I went through with pre-year 2000 Mission speakers a couple of years ago, but for the purposes of this post, it means that I've a small collection of their speakers in the garage - the ones that came out best in my experiments and I felt would be good to hang on to, plus, there's a pair of 771e on Atacama SE20 stands doing great service in our Dining room.  So we have some tiny Monitor Audios that R brings along, and then Mission 771e (turn of the millenium), 737R (late 1980s) and 773 (turn of the millenium) speakers to play with. The Cyrus 8 is placed on an Isolplat on top of a Quadraspire rack and my Logitech Touch (streaming FLAC from NAS over Ethernet) is hooked up using Linn Black analogue interconnects.  R has brought some solid core speaker cables (I can't remember which - I'll amend the post later with the correct info) and we start with the tiny Monitor Audios.  The set up isn't ideal - all the speakers are stood in my listening room in front of the Linn Keilidhs so its not the best way to listen.  They're well into the room but they'll all be put through the same circumstances so we'll be able to spot differences but won't be hearing any of them at their best.  We don't listen to the MAs for long - there's loads of detail, not much bass - but what is there is OK - and female vocals are very enjoyable. But its all rather bright / harsh and I don't think they sound as good as the Tangent Evos.  We quickly move on to the 771e on the Atacama stands (which are 2/3 sand filled) and there is a massive jump in quality.  There's a quite suprising amount of bass out of these boxes, the treble is smoothed out significantly and there's a good deal more drive to the music.  We listen to some of our "standard" listening tracks such as Eagle Eye Cherry's "Shooting Up In Vain", Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters" in 24/96 format and FAC15's take on Judie Tzuke's classic "Stay With Me Til Dawn".  We enjoy them all and agree that the 771e are very acceptable. 

Mission 771e (identity info - 771 has a silver bass driver centre cap, the 771e has gold)


We carry them out (the stands are heavy!) and in come the floor standing 773 - they're no wider nor deeper than the 771 but they're 923mm tall so they sit the tweeter higher in the room.  The 773 and 771 share the same drivers - a 25mm silk dome tweeter and a 130mm Aerogel bass cone, but the 773 adds a second bass driver.  The results are astonishing.  R's reaction forces some choice language - he can't believe we're listening to a pair of speakers you can pick up for under £100.  They're great - bass is deep, extended and articulate, vocals clear and imaging is good, if not as good as Mission's best in this regard.  We listen to several more tracks just to make sure.  If you listen to them reasonably loud they do a great job, quieter they remain dynamic, but crank up the Cyrus too much (for the speakers, not the amp) they do harden up somewhat.  But that won't matter - the quiet to medium volume range is all that will be possible in R's digs.  We decide that this combination (even using the rather limited DAC built into the Logitech Touch) is a very acceptable system and one that would be easy to live with in terms of tonal qualities and information retrieval.

Mission 773




We move onto the last option we have available to us - the late 1980s Mission 737R. Read about them on the Internet and you'll see lots of references to the "legendary" 737 Renaissance (the R stands for Renaissance which is printed in large black letters on the old skool front baffle which is painted in a dark silver dimpled finish - think Hammerite!) which was an interesting re-positioning of the "legendary" original Mission 770.  Imagine the original Mission 770's thin chipboard cabinet and the translucent 200mm polypropylene base cone coupled with the cheaper tweeter from the 700 and you get the 737R - a kind of down-market version of the 770.  At that time, the 770 had moved onto a more sophisticated cabinet and bass driver so I'm guessing this was a good way for Mission to continue to re-coup its investment in the translucent bass cone.  Anyway, I digress.  The upshot is that, following on from the 15+ years younger 773, the 737R were are a major step backwards. Good to see that Mission did make good progress over those years.  In comparison to the 773 the 737R just sounds so crude.  Bass is lighter (they benefit from being back to a wall so are distincly disadvantaged here) but its also somewhat flappy, treble is vague, bright and splashy and vocals get buried somewhere in the mix.  Pretty disappointing - they are working fine, but they're really showing their age in terms of the sound they make.  I finally realise that I can let them go - they might have been quite something in their day, but they're heavily out classed now.  Its good to hear that progress has been made.

Mission 737 Renaissance (note there are 2 versions of this speaker, one with a matt black baffle and the other with the dimpled silver finish - not sure which came first, but pretty sure from listening to them that they're otherwise of identical spec)

So we have a result - the 773 are a suprisingly good speaker, and R is off back to eBay to see what the 773 action is like.  When buying the 77 series from this era secondhand you need to look for those that are in immaculate condition because the very attractive "leather look" black vinyl front baffle covering sometimes has given up gripping onto the heavily chamfered / countered front panel.

Post script:  Having got the result we did with the 773, the 771 on Atacamas didn't go back into the Dining Room - the 773 have taken their place.  With their backs closer to a wall the 773 are sounding better still, even when driven by a lowly NAD 7020e receiver (basically a NAD 3020e amp with a built-in tuner).  A Logitech Touch is now resident in the Dining Room system too - its finally climbed out of its box.  So the second system gets a boost out of this exercise too.  R has borrowed the 771e and stands for a few weeks until a suitable pair off 773s appear on eBay.  A useful couple of hours of experiment that's lead to 2 excellent results for R and for our Dining room.  R's also taken away some Linn K20 speaker cable to compare against the solid core stuff - will report his findings soon.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cambridge Audio NP 30 - At Last!

After over a year of waiting, the NP 30 is finally coming to the UK.

Priced at £399 it sits between the Logitech Touch and the Cyrus Stream X, but closest to the Logitech in both price and funcitionality, given that it contains a DAC.  It will be interesting to see how the sound quality compares.

What HiFi News Article
Cambridge Audio Pages

Being uPnP based it doesn't need software installing on a PC or on a NAS and that's got to be a good thing.  Also good to see that it has a coax SP/DIF output so that other, better, DACs can be used when the time comes to upgraded.  Looks good too - purely on the cosmetics it looks like a more up market product compared to the DACMagic.

There's an Apple iWotsits app which looks fine in the screenshots - it will be interesting to see if it can overcome the issues of lag that many of these apps suffer from.

I look forward to the reviews.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Woe Is Me!

I've come over all Shakespearean and its down to the new heart of my system, the Cyrus DAC-X.

It was secondhand and has been performing really well in my system for several weeks now, but we came back from a few days away and it's developed a fault - the left channel is heavily distorted.  Tested cables, connections to the pre-amp, different digital inputs, with and without the PSX-R all with the same result - a distorted sounding DAC.

An email's gone off to the Cyrus service dept to check out what to do next, but it'll be a while before they get back, given the UK's plethora of bank holidays at the moment.

Hopefully its not something too expensive!

More Popular Titles Now Emerging in HD

HDTracks are ramping up more popular releases.  Demand must be growing and in a similar vein to the way CDs were released in their early days, more and more "classic" rock / pop albums are now coming out in glorious HD quality.  And, despite their age, it does work - my HD copies of Rush's Moving Pictures and Steely Dan's Gaucho sound great, despite being recorded well before 24 bit digital had been thought of!

Latest examples:


Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Eric Clapton's Slowhand
Beck's Sea Change
And lots of Rolling Stones

Enjoy

p.s. Not HD, but Hed Kandi's latest Serve Chilled: Electronic Summer is now available from Juno Download in CD quality WAV or FLAC.