"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

Sunday 22 April 2012

Heard The New Naim NDS Today

Naim are touring their NDS at the moment in the UK.

Heard this playing at Acoustica in Chester. System as follows:

252 pre-amp with Supercap power supply
NAP300 power amp with its dedicated power supply
NAC speaker cable
Naim Ovator S-600 speakers

Streamers (all include an on-board DAC):
NDX (£3k)
NDX with 555PS power supply (£9k)
NDS with 555PS power supply (£11k)

First, I really do not like Naim speakers, so this needs to be borne in mind. Having said that, today was the first time (in 4 attempts) that the S-600s actually were tolerable. They have this strange "cardboard" quality to some sounds such as snare and fingers rapping on a guitar body. They also harden up quite quickly, which doesn't complement the immdediacy of the Naim electronics at all.

We heard the NDX stand alone (just OK), the NDX with the 555PS (note that the PS is about 50% more expensive than the streamer) which works very well, and then the NDS with 555PS which was clearly the better sounding streamer, but not such a big improvement as adding the power supply to the NDX.

Within the constraints of the speakers (I know, this is very much a personal thing), each step brought greater clarity, more depth, improved image width etc. etc. But, joy of joys, apart from the stand alone NDX, there was none of that Naim shoutyness that, IMHO, is very tiring and somewhat irritating. Until they played XTC's Making Plans For Nigel on the NDX / 555PS, which was just about excrutiatingly painful.

Would love to hear the electronics with some of the larger B&W speakers in the shop. Maybe we can drop back in again soon when the Naim guy's gone home!

Is the NDS / 555PS a Linn Klimax DS rival? Difficult to say as I've only heard them in the context of their own make systems. But I suspect it will be, as anything that can make a pair of Naim speakers sound tolerable is a major achievement in my book.

Linn vs Naim Mid-range Streamer

Had the opportunity to spend some time comparing Linn and Naim streamers last weekend.

Friend's system as follows:
Naim CDX2 (latest version) with XPS2 power supply
Naim 282 pre-amp with Supercap power supply
Naim NAP250 power amp
NAC speaker cable
Wilson Benesch The Arc stand mounts with their dedicated stands

We have a difference of opinion on how a system should sound - to me the above seems to interpret the music rather than let it out, and it has that Naim immediacy that borders on shouty. It is much better than it was previously when it used to have a first iteration of CDX2 and a NAP180 amp.

So in came a Naim NDX streamer, using the existing XPS2 power supply. We used my Windows 7 Dell laptop, a 2.5" portable drive, FLAC in 16/44.1 and 24/96, an unmanaged network switch and Asset UPnP. Control was via the buttons and screen on the front of the NDS - really simple to use and gets you up and running quickly. I thought it was much simpler to set up than a Linn DS. It took us about 3 minutes to decide that the CD player was a non-event compared to the streamer. The difference is quite astounding - the streamer is much more organic and precise - it has an hint of analogue about it. The control it brings to the music really makes the CD player sound quite nasty, cluttered and over zealous. Job done. This streamer and power supply combination lists at about £6.5k. You can pick up ex-dems and secondhand and get this down to just under £5k. Not many about though, although I suspect more NDXs will start to surface now the NDS is on its way.

We brought in my Akurate DS/0 Dynamik and silver cables (yes, the 282 pre-amp has a couple of phono inputs on the back!) into the Naim system to conduct a direct comparison. We used the same data source as used for the NDX and used Kinsky on the laptop for control. How did it compare? Well its a tricky one really. I really wouldn't like to say which was better, but there certainly were some differences. For me the Linn brings more detail, separates the instruments better, times the music more naturally (more involuntary foot tapping) and is very musical. To counter this the Naim sounds more analogue, a bit more fluid and gives an open, more airy soundstage - almost like the room in which the recording took place was bigger. I know the current ADS/1 lists at £4.5k, but mine set me back just under half that amount.

So you pay your money (lots more for the Naim) and make your choice. I really would be happy living with either in the Naim system, but if you add VFM into the mix, the Linn wins out significantly.

Oh, and if you take the PSX2 out of the system, the NDX is a real disappointment compared to the ADS/0 Dynamik, but still outperforms the CDX2.

If we can find a suitable cable, I'll try and report back on the same comparison in my Linn system...
Scores (a bit simplistic, but there you go - all I'm trying to do is indicate relative performance rather than absolute performance):
Naim NDX / XPS2 = 90%
Linn Akurate DS/0 Dynamik 89%
Naim NDX = 75%
Naim CDX2 / XPS2 = 65%

Monday 9 April 2012

Inside an Active Linn AV5125

Some photos of the inside of the AV5125 five channel amplifier with 2 x stereo active cards installed - 1 x stereo treble and 1 x stereo bass (in this case, the cards are for Keilidh speakers, but the cards are in the same format for all AV5125s. There is room for one more mono card for the 5th channel, but its not installed in this case.

AV5125 Rear Panel - showing 5 channels of inputs (1 input and output per channel to facilitate bi-amping or active) and speaker terminals (2 speaker outputs per channel to ease bi-wiring),  4 slots in the upper right hand half would have tabs sticking out indicating the type of card installed, should active cards be in place inside the amp.

AV5125 Front Panel

AV5125 With 2 x Active Stereo Cards Installed

AV5125 with 2 x Active Stereo Cards Installed - just to the right the vertical white plastic pillars of the 5th mono card installation point can be seen

AV5125 Internals Overview.  Front panel at the base of this picture.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Cyrus Power vs Linn Power - Decision Time

Finally I get around to writing about the comparison with Cyrus amps.

If you look at my system pictures in the images tab you'll currently see 4 x 8 Powers with 4 x PSX-Rs powering my tri-active Linn Keilidhs and bi-active Linn Centrik (with a pair of SmartPowers driving bi-active Tukans at the rear).

A quick re-cap:

- My system had been static for about 7 years
- I went through a few Squeezebox / DAC combinations before deciding to go for a Linn Akurate DS/0 Dynamik, selling my DAC-X and Linn LP12 to fund the DS
- I was using 6 x Rotel RB850 power amps to drive my active Linn speakers
- The listening room was being thoroughly re-decorated

So during the re-decoration I started collecting power amps to compare once the room was back in action, realising that the Rotels are now the weak point in the system.  My brother has Cyrus kit which has some merits (punchy, fast, excellent imaging, good bass depth) and obviously with Linn in the system I had to give those a try too.

Over the 3 - 4 months of listening room re-decoration I found 4 Cyrus 8 Powers, 3 PSX-Rs (I had one I had been using with the DAC-X to make a total of 4), 2 SmartPowers and the Linn C5100 / AV5125 listed earlier.  FYI, the C5100 is 5 x mono 50W amps in one box and the AV5125 is 5 x mono 125W amps in one box.  The Keilidhs need 6 channels of amplification and the Centrik needs 2 channels so its 2 Linn boxes or 8 Cyrus 8 Power / PSX-R boxes.

Wiring up all the Cyrus amps wasn't the fastest operation - 8 mains power cables (connected into 2 x Clearer Audio Copper Alpha distribution blocks), 10 interconnects and 14 speaker connections took a while, and the spaghetti behind the rack was a real challenge.  The 4 PSX-Rs with their 4 8 Powers on top all lined up on the lower shelf of the Quadraspire QAV rack looked pretty impressive (although many would complain about so many boxes).  Mrs Sunbeamgls is very tolerant!

Comparisons first with memories (3-4 months old remember) of the Rotel power amps.  The Cyrus amps sounded clearer, faster, imaging better and altogether more lively.  Bass wasn't really deeper, but it had more control.  In all the right hi-fi ways, it was a better sound.  But as local Naim enthusiast Richard pointed out, it wasn't really all the way it should be.  I left the system like this for a week - to allow it to settle in and to make sure there weren't any issues waiting for the system to warm up etc.  Still, I wasn't happy with the sound - I just didn't want to sit and listen to the music for very long - I wasn't captivated by the music.

So in come the Linn amps.  Fewer mains cables of course, but just as many of the other connections.  Initial impressions spotted some immediate differences.  I would characterise the overall change in sound as a huge amount more subtlety about the presentation of the music.  Its not something that hits you in the face as being entirely obvious, but its clearly very different to the Cyrus amps.  Bass notes are deeper, more controlled and exist in their own space.  One of the tracks I used suddenly had not just a kick drum, but a kick drum with a bass guitar layered over the top, which is playing a tune - the Cyrus amps just didn't resolve this as 2 instruments, hence not playing the bass line as a tune either.  Cymbals became stand alone instruments with sudden clarity of shimmer vs sparkle and its possible to distinguish how hard they are being struck. There's more - the Cyrus amps initially sound more exciting, but direct comparison with the Linns shows that the leading edges of the instruments are quiet edgy and grainy - they happen faster, but there's a roughness - the Linns again displaying some subtlety in leading edges that allow the music to flow more convincingly.  Its a weird mix of instruments being distinctly separate but the music flowing as an whole - difficult to describe but that's the best way I can put it.

So the Linn's win it for me.  All of this kit is secondhand with the AV5125 being around 8 years old, the C5100 about 5 years old and the 8 Powers and PSX-Rs being between 4 years and 6 months old.  If we consider the new price of the equivalent current models, the Cyrus ensemble comes in at around £6.5k and the Linns at £5k.

I'm almost disappointed!  I kind of like the idea of mixing and matching components, but it seems, in this case, that there could be some synergy happening.   Certainly not disappointed with the music I'm getting - its truly involving.  Since then the AV5125 has replaced the SmartPowers to drive the rear speakers and a current Majik 5100 Dynamik has taken up duties powering the bass drivers in the Keilidhs.  A Linn Akurate 2200 Dynamik is driving the Keilidh tweeters and the C5100 is driving the Centrik speaker.  Another advantage of the Linn amps is that the active crossover cards can be housed inside the amps, removing the need for the Linn Tunebox crossover boxes that are required when running non-Linn amplifiers.  So the crossover boxes have gone and for the front speakers I've gone from 4 Rotels and 2 crossovers down to 3 Linn amps - with Cyrus amps it would have been 10 boxes!  Fewer connections and interconnect cables are probably helping the sound too.

Oh, and one more thing - when watching a movie, because the Cyrus amps are driving only a limited number of drivers and they switch themselves off after 5 mins of inactivity, they were switching themselves on and off rather annoyingly - clicking as they powered up and down to the point of distraction.  Not acceptable!. Of course, it is possible to have the Cyrus amps constantly powered up, but that's not too convenient either.  The Linns are more patient - waiting for 15 minutes before powering down, so they work out just fine, staying active for the full length of a movie.

The Rotels are leaving the building...

Monday 2 April 2012

PiFi Show - Scalford Hall, March 2012

Here are some piccies from the event - will write some wordS at some point, but suffice to say that this is quite some experience and demonstrates the huge variety of kit in this hobby, and the even wider variety of solutions and different approaches to sound that folk aim for.  What fun.

freefallrob and radical D.N.A - Heybrook TT2 / RB300 / Goldring Eroica LO LX phonostage / Cambridge Audio CA640P /  EPOS M12 speakers

Serious Listening
glowingtones - icon audio triode / croft pre-amp / SBT / MF V-DAC
glowingtones Klipsch RF82
John - Open Baffles DIY
SpeedySteve's Home Brew Horns

Shanling CD / Icon Audio EL84s and some T-Amps