"What a refreshingly honest blog about listening to music through hi-fi. So happy to see views based upon the enjoyment of music rather than so-called sound 'quality'." - Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design at Mission / Wharfedale

Wednesday 29 June 2011

End of an Era

How long should you hang on to something that you aspired to, but no longer use?

Deep philosophy?  Not really, just one of the thoughts that went into a pretty significant decision for me.  The item in question is my Linn Sondek LP12.  About 7 years ago, it was a major upgrade from a Thorens TD160 MkII with a Mayware Formula IV Mk3 arm.  Full spec of the LP12 on "previously cherished" purchase was:

- Black Ash corner braced plinth
- Trampolin base
- Latest springs and gromets
- AC motor
- Valhalla power supply
- Cirkus bearing
- Linn Ittok LVII arm
- Dynavector DV20HX high output moving coil cartridge
- Clear lid
- Rega felt mat

As I said, a major upgrade from the Thorens and sounding rather good in comparison - excellent timing, super smooth sweet treble and clear, open vocals.  A bit of the well-known lower mid / upper bass muddiness too.

After about 3 years something went horribly wrong in the power supply / motor department - with the motor just juddering and not turning.  Not being sure if it was a motor or Valhalla fault I did some research and didn't really find out anything conclusive except for one thing - everyone (including some hifi mags) who had tried an Origin Live DC motor kit were raving about how much better it makes the LP12 sound, so I took the plunge.  I have to concur with the reviews I'd seen - it adds dynamics and removes much of the upper bass muddiness, so an excellent upgrade.  Some say this is better than a Lingo, but I've never done a back to back comparison, so I can't comment.

Its probably worth mentioning here that I don't have a huge collection of vinyl - probably under 200 discs (albums and 12" singles) so the LP12 has always been a bit of an indulgent luxury.  As for sound, I find that the LP12 does sweet treble smoothness and female vocals better than the Meridian 508.20 CD player, but CD does much better control of the bass lines and is far more dynamic - so each have their compromises and its difficult to say which is better, but I find myself listening to CD much more because I have a much larger collection of disks.

Which brings us to the point at which I've now got a streaming device (Logitech Squeezebox Touch and Cyrus DAC-X) that outperforms the CD and the LP12.  Given the visit to the hifi shop where we heard the lowest "proper" Linn streamer, the Majik DS outperform the Touch / Cyrus DAC-X and working out that I have played vinyl about 3 times so far in 2011, then the need to keep the LP12 became quite difficult to justify.  Its a great looking bit of kit and makes for a "proper" and complete hifi system so it took me a few weeks to work from the logical conclusion through the illogical and irrational desire to keep the deck and finally arrive at a decision.

So the LP12 went up on ebay to generate some funds to buy a high quality streamer and has found a new home with someone who has had a lower spec Sondek in the past and is going back to his vinyl collection.  Great to see that its gone to a caring and very happy new owner.  I wish it well for the future and hope that it now give someone lots of great music listening sessions rather than just collecting dust in our house.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Linn Off-Spring?

Interesting article that claims a number of former Linn employees have jumped ship and created Simple Audio, focussing on the streaming market at "reasonable prices".  One of the directors, Martin Dalgleish took myself and some friends on a tour of Linn's factory back in the early 1990s.

Could be interesting.  Nothing at http://www.simpleaudio.co.uk/ other than an holding page at the moment.






Friday 17 June 2011

Streamers and DACs from Linn, Cyrus, Logitech, Rega and Naim

Spent an interesting couple of hours in the hifi shop this afternoon with Naim enthusiast Richard trying some streaming / DAC combinations.  The excuse was created from having to pick up my newly serviced Cyrus DAC-X.

Objective - is it the streaming or the DAC that makes the difference?

Kit tested:

Linn Majik DS (as streamer and with internal DAC)
Logitech Squeezebox Touch (as streamer and with internal DAC)
Naim NDX (only as a combined unit)
Cyrus DAC-X (no PSX-R)
Cyrus Stream XP (as streamer and with internal DAC)
Rega DAC

System consisted of Cyrus 8 XPdQX integrated amp and a pair of Cabasse Artis Baltic Evolutions with their subwoofer.  Not sure what the speaker cables were, but the interconnects were from Atlas.  For the comparisons we used 16 bit CD rips in FLAC from Florence & The Machine and Elbow.

Lets get the speakers out of the way first.  I would describe them as an acquired taste, but its not a taste I acquired in the 2 hours in the shop.  They're too high, leading to a rather distant and detached soundstage and the subwoofer isn't well integrated with a somewhat underwhelming bass that lacks any real weight or slam - that could be down to how well they were set up of course.  They do have an excellent mid-range though, producing some really stunning female vocals.  The top end is ultra detailed, but can lead to some brittleness, particularly with some of the combinations we heard this afternoon.  They were, however, quite capable of showing the differences between the source components - the notes below refer to subjective differences and personal opinion - its not about absolutes.

So we kicked off with the Touch / DAC-X which I normally listen to at home, albeit it normally has a PSX-R playing along.  The sound was good, within what I think are fairly compromising limits of the speakers with some confusion on complex passages.

Next up is the Linn as streamer and DAC and here we get a decent step up in performance - more detail, much more space around the instruments and better playing of the tune.  The complex passages are better resolved too.

So which is making the biggest difference - the streaming bit or the DAC?  We hook up the Linn as a streamer into the DAC-X and find that this makes the music somewhere between the Touch / DAC-X and the complete Linn solution.  So its true, the streaming 0s and 1s bit really does make a difference and the Linn as a streamer is a worthwhile upgrade over the Touch as a streamer.

What next? We went back to the Touch and used its internal DAC.  Its very polite, a little muddled and dynamically a little flat.  Let's try that Stream XP with its internal DAC and see how Cyrus's latest performs.  Well, its better than the Touch, and gives a good account of itsself, but its not as big an upgrade as you would expect for £1400 extra investment.  So we go back to Touch / DAC-X for a while and then to the Stream XP as streamer only feeding the DAC-X and we find that the Stream XP is a better streamer than the Touch and the DAC-X is significantly better than the DAC inside the Stream XP.  This is a good sounding combination, but at £2600 (I'm allowing for the DAC-X's list price when it was new, rather than what I paid for it) it's not competing with the £1880 Linn.

The Stream XP was a bit of a disappointment as a complete streamer / DAC, but performed well as a streamer into the DAC-X and equalled the Linn /  DAC-X but not the Linn as a complete unit.

So in comes the NDX.  And here we have the typical Naim sound - very detailed (probably a very small amount of detail more than the Linn) and very pacey.  But we agreed it was all a bit too much and rather aggressive - going back to the Linn was a joy - much more musical and the music has time to flow much more than it does on the Naim.  Even Naim fan Richard agreed that the Linn was producing the best sounds we'd heard.

So that was the main session that we'd planned to go through.  Richard's interested in a DAC for his second system that currently uses a Touch only so we gave the Touch / Rega combination a try.  This is a good DAC - very refined and smooth but I was hoping for more, having seen the reviews and forum recommendations.  Keeping the Touch as a streamer we compared the Rega and DAC-X DACs, finding that the DAC-X is a better sounding piece of kit in this particular system - being more detailed and more dynamic without being overpowering.

We finished with some more tracks on the Linn including some 24 bit stuff.  Interestingly the difference between a 16 bit CD rip and a 24 bit version of the same track brings a much bigger difference on the Linn than you can differentiate on the Touch.  Some great music playing here, within what I think are some pretty severe limitations in the speakers.  Still need to hear it in my own system of course.

So here's our conclusion for you to pick apart!  Best to least best with prices just to add a bit more interest:

Linn Majik DS streamer and DAC    £1880
Linn Majik DS streamer and Cyrus DAC-X     £2880
Cyrus Stream XP as streamer and Cyrus DAC-X     £2600
Naim NDX streamer and DAC     £3000
Touch streamer and Cyrus DAC-X     £1200
Cyrus Stream XP as streamer and DAC £1400
Touch streamer and Rega DAC     £700
Touch streamer and DAC     £200

We didn't try the Cyrus Stream XP / Rega DAC combination.