"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

Thursday 23 January 2014


I'm not sure what this tells me (or you), but excluding the components that are still in the system, here are the heros to zeros of how long stuff has stayed in the system.  Bear in mind that some are only in there for a short time as I upgraded them quickly as I was experimenting (typically this is the streaming / DAC stuff) others because they just were a disappointment (Cyrus power amps).

So here goes the ageist list, based on how long stuff stayed around in the system:

19 years:  Linn Keilidh speakers; Thorens TD160BC MkII turntable with Mayware Formula IV arm

16 years:  Linn Centre Channel Tunebox; Meridian 541 pre-amp/processor

14 years:  Rotel RB850 Power Amps for left and right channels; Linn Centrik Mk1 Centre Speaker; Meridian 508.20 CD Player

12 years:  Aiwa AD-F800 Cassette Deck; basic Sony FM Tuner (can't remember the model number)

8 years: Linn Tukan rear speakers; Linn Left and Right Tunebox with toroidal power supply

7 years: Nagaoka MP20 MM cartridge; Linn Sondek LP12 turntable with Linn Ittok arm and Dynavector DV20HX MC cartridge

6 years: Pure DRX-701ES DAB tuner

5 years: Linn Rear Tunebox; Denon TU-660MkII FM tuner; Nagaoka MP11 MM Cartridge

4 years: Aiwa AD-F3500 cassette deck; Mission 771e rear speakers

3 years: Technics RS-M8 cassetted deck; Origin Live DC power supply for the LP12

2.5 years: Rotel RB970 centre channel power amp; Linn Left and Right Tunebox with Slimline power supply; Linn Valhalla power supply for LP12

2 years: Mission 760 rear speakers

1 year: NAD 9200 MM cartridge

10 months:  Cambridge Audio DACMagic; Cyrus DAC-X with PSX-R power supply

6 months:  Linn Kudos FM tuner

4 months: Linn AV5125 rear channel power amp; Linn AV5103 pre-amp/processors

4 weeks: Cyrus SmartPower rear channel power amps

1 week: Cyrus 8 power amps and PSX-R power supplies

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Preparing for The Hifi Show at Scalford on 2nd March

I've been successful in the allocations of rooms at the Scalford Hifi Show again this year, so planning is underway.  This show is for enthusiasts' systems - its not commercial, its just for the sake of listening to lots of different systems (about 50 again this year) and lots of different music all in one place on the same day.  Some of it will be very esoteric, some prosaic, some weird and some DIY.  Variety is the spice of this particular show.

Having played the main system last year I'm doing something different this year, going for a 2.1 AV setup.  My intention is to play the "Touch Yello" DVD on repeat all day - each run takes about 45 minutes.  Yello tends to be popular at this type of event, but I don't think Scalford has seen an AV solution before, so it will be interesting to see how popular the room is.  Originally I was thinking of being very amitious and going with a 5.1 system.  But the Yello soundtrack is only in 2.0, so there's no point really.  Maybe another year.

The proposed kit is much more prosaic than the main Linn system and consists of:

Sony S480 blu-ray player
Linn Akurate Kontrol/0/D (mainly being used for its excellent internal DAC)
NAD 2155 or Rotel RB970BX power amp
Optional Q Acoustics 2070Si subwoofer
DELL M410HD projector and screen

As part of the planning I set up the various components in the kid's playroom (lots of space, but unfortunately 3 walls of windows) to decide on NAD vs Rotel power amps and to check the subwoofer's integration with the Missions.

Testing Time
 So with lots of power, HDMI and audio cables strewn across the room, Yello was spooled up on the Sony (its the extremely slim box bottom right of the picture).  The NAD amp was OK, but a bit sluggish and lightweight.  The Rotel beefed things up nicely and moved along at a better pace with somewhat smoother and more detailed treble.  So that decision was quick and easy.  The system still sounds pretty bright (but not harsh) and I'm hoping that's down to the nature of the room - all that glass is very reflective of high frequencies.
Next the subwoofer was unpacked and plugged in (not shown in the picture above).  It took a while to get it all working smoothly together, but, in this room, it worked well.  Using the "music" setting rather than "movies" and with the crossover point at around 70Hz a good amount of non-flappy weight was added to the sound, and the brightness was balanced somewhat too (but still not enough for my taste).
So we'll see how well the sub integrates in the room at Scalford, but its definitely coming along as I'd prefer to use it if I can.   Hopefully the lack of glass at Scalford will help somewhat too.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

The Hi-Fi Show - Sunday 2nd March 2014, Scalford Hall Hotel, Melton Mowbray, UK

The Hi-Fi Show - Sunday 2nd March 2014 - 10am to 5pm
The Scalford Hall Hotel, Melton Mowbray     

It's here again - the hi-fi show people look forward to all year! Known to many as the 'Pie-Fi Show' due to its excellent location just outside the town of Melton Mowbray, this long-established and unique event in the annual hi-fi calendar offers visitors the opportunity to listen to an amazingly wide variety of top quality, 'real life' audio systems playing an equally amazingly wide variety of music.

From classic to modern, from computer source to vinyl, from Arcam to XTZ, from home made to high end, and from budget to no expense spared - just about every possible way to reproduce music can be heard here - up to 50 different systems will be playing music. These may technically be 'amateur' systems, but they are some of the best you will ever hear. Assembled with no commercial restraints and often with no compromises.  These are enthusiasts playing their own systems for other enthusiasts.  None of these systems are for sale - this is not a commercial show.

What's more, you are very welcome to bring your own music to listen to.


Sunday 12 January 2014

Headphone Review - Sennheiser Momentum vs B&W P3

Spent sometime comparing the Sennheiser Momentum over-ear headphones with the similarly priced B&W P3 on-ears. Both of these sets get great reviews. Currently I have a pair of AKG 451s which I don't use much because they don't sound as good as the review would suggest.  My main on the move listening is with a pair of Beyer Dynamic DTX-101 in-ears, chosen for their sound quality, external noise isolation and the sheer convenience of their tiny size.

I used jazz, blues, rock and electronica tracks in uncompressed ALAC on my iPod Classic 160GB because that is what I would most likely use them with.

Both the Momentum and P3 headphones are a massive step up from the AKG 451. Like going from a table top transistor radio to a decent budget hifi. They do, however, have very different presentations, surprisingly so. The B&W has a forward, harder sound that initially is impressive, but give it some time and you notice a kind of squashed effect on the vocals, like the singer is not projecting well, and a distinctly grainy edge to the treble and cymbals. Imaging is 2 dimensional and narrow. Bass is very pacey though and drives the track along well, but doesn't get quite as deep as my Beyer Dynamic DTX 101 in-ears.

The Momentums are a much warmer listen. Vocals are richer, the imaging fills the head left to right and front to back and bass goes deeper. However, they don't drive along quite so well as the B&W, sounding slower and more relaxed. Comparing them on detail shows the B&W to initially give the impression of greater detail but its all therewith the Momentums too, they don't shove it at you with quite the same vigour.

Comfort wise I found the spring strength of the B&W to push them too hard onto my ears and the Momentums sat comfortably over my ears, giving better isolation. This is, of course, a very individual thing. Also, they may be more adjustable than I discovered at the time. They both seem to be well built with the B&W going for retro cool and the Momentum going more for a luxury feel.

After 25 mins of testing, I would buy the Sennheisers for their comfort, less aggressive sound, bass depth and much more expansive imaging.  I could see why someone who preferred fast aggressive amps and speakers might prefer the B&Ws but they're not for me. Shop around, prices vary enormously.

Friday 10 January 2014

A View From The Top?

Where is the top?  Well, if I climb Moel Famau a few miles from home I'm pretty sure I know when I've got to the top of that particular hill.  It has a small pseudo castle on top and the views from there across the Clwydian hills are either spectacular, or invisible, depending up on the weather.

Moel Famau (photo courtesy of www.visitclwydianrange.co.uk)
But, in audio terms, where exactly is the top?

You'll know that my system is heavily Linn, and until Q4 last year (2013), the top in Linn terms would've been Klimax DS/1, Klimax Kontrol/2, Klimax Tunebox crossovers, 8 Klimax Solo mono power amps and Klimax 350p speakers.  That lot adds up to about £93k, give or take.  Add cables and that gets you to about £95k.  You'd think that'd be pretty near the top wouldn't you.  But rather like those hill walks you go on that have a number of false summits, there's still a whole bunch more money you could spend on audio gear, should you have the means and the inclination.  By way of example, on 7 January 2014 at CES in the US, Naim Audio launched a new pre-amp and 2 x mono-block powers amps.  This "Statement" amp is listed at $120k.  So it would be fairly easy (on a price list browsing basis, not on an affordability basis) to build a system in excess of £300k.  Yet another (probably false) summit. Probably.

Now Linn introduces the Klimax Exakt DS and 350 speaker combination for £50k.  But Exakt can be had as a Tunebox too, feeding Solo power amps into 350 speakers, or the older Komri speaker, or the even older Keltik speaker.  With more options to come soon. Exakt, Solos and 350p are probably in the region of £90k too.

Which brings me to the subject of this review.  Sort of.  Because regardless of Exakt, or not, I don't consider the Klimax 350 speaker (in passive or active form), Linn's current top of the price list speaker as either their most musical current speaker (that's the Akubarik) nor their finest achievement to date.  For me, their finest achievement to date goes to the long discontinued Komri.  Last seen at £32k list price, they were superseded by the 350 around 5 or 6 years ago.  I've heard them a couple of times before.  The most recent was on one of my earliest visits to the House of Linn when they were being driven by a top of the line LP12 and the original Klimax DS with 4 Klimax Twin stereo power amps.

Linn Komri.  On the rear there are 4 pairs of speaker cable connections for super tweeter / tweeter / mid and upper bass. Alongside is the XLR low level connection to feed the onboard power amps for the bass drivers.  Top half of the back panel are the heatsinks for the bass power amps.  Photo from blog.daum.net
I've never heard a pair of Linn Klimax 350 speakers come close to the enjoyment provided by that system including the Komris.  Even Exakt 350s.

But then an invitation arrived, a bit out of the blue, on the Linn forum.  I'd been in touch with Pablo before, as I knew he lived only 15 miles or so from home and that he had a pretty good Linn system.  We'd agreed to meet up sometime, but never really got around to it.  But then this latest communication said that Pablo was expecting his Klimax Exakt DSM and Komri Exakt Tuneboxes to arrive just before Christmas, and would I like to go for a listen?  That's not really a tough one to answer and we soon sorted out a time, slotting into the holiday period between Christmas and New Year.  The time also worked for another forum member "To Be A Rock And Not A Roll" (referred to as Rock from here onwards) so we were set for a small forum get together o give these Exakt Komris a listen.

After a bit of a challenge finding Pablo's lair (its hidden down a side road in what used to be the neighbour's back garden), we settled in with a cuppa to some tracks.  Rock already had some Pink Floyd playing, but it wasn't one of my favourite albums and tends to the harsh.  Pablo went to load up some tracks I'd brought with me and we got going.  The first thing I noticed, and we discussed, is just how tidy Pablo's system is - all you can see is the Komris - there are no electronics in the room.  There are wide pipes buried into the walls through which the 2 x K400 speaker cables and 1 x Linn Silver balanced interconnects per speaker disappear.  These are connected to the 8 x Klimax Solo/Dynamik mono power amps and Exakt Komri Tuneboxes up in the loft space and in turn the Tuneboxes are connected by Exakt Links down to the Klimax Exakt DS in the dining room, just behind the wall where the speakers are located.  This is all super neat, but I can't help thinking that personally, I'd really like to see all that beautifully crafted Klimax hardware out in the open, something a bit like this:

Klimax Electronics.  Photo from www.linn-prestige.ru

As it is, this is what you see in Pablo's listening room, just the cherry veneered Komris:

So how does all this lot sound?  Well, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the top of the hill for an all-Linn system.  The 350 Exakt is just not in the same league as the Komris.  Apparently production was stopped due to some difficult to source parts.  That's a shame because they really are a big step up from the 350 - there is no doubt about what they're doing with the music - no hint of that strangely disconnected bass in the 350.  The first thing that struck me was the masses of detail in the upper ranges - but this has no hint whatsoever of being "in your face" or at all aggressive - its sweet, smooth and sparkly, all at the same time.  What's more, it doesn't seem to originate from the speakers at all - instruments hanging in space, rock steady in location, regardless of what else comes along in the music.  Vocals are outstanding too - there's so much expression, nuance and feeling in what we're hearing and this system doesn't favour male over female or vice-versa, its all there in spades.

What about the weight and dynamics?  Well, whatever you want is there without being overwhelming.  I find it very difficult to describe very weightly, deep deep deep and super solid in nature but not hung over, no boom etc.  Its an amazing mix of capabilities.  So often I read about oodles of boominess and swamping bass or hear it in some systems, but this is completely different to that.  Its hard to comprehend that so much complexity and so many rhythms are hidden in those bass lines from the likes of Yello and Trentemoller.  But here they all are - and fully part of the complete make-up and flow of the music.  How to describe instruments that stand so clearly apart and distinct yet they're so much part of the emotional presentation of a tune?  I don't know, but here it all happens.

We chat for a while then play some more tunes.  Rock and I are constantly smiling, shaking heads and tapping our feet.  We're both wrapped up in the music and we're both late to leave as its so difficult to drag ourselves away from what this system is doing.  We try and describe what we're hearing but (as you'll see above) its really difficult to describe.  We eventually settle on a feeling (note that its a feeling, not a technical description) of completely effortless presentation of music, flow and emotion.  Stunningly effortless.

There, that's the verdict.  I'm not sure here if we're at the top of the hifi hill - perhaps Pablo's system is another of those false summits, but there's no doubt that this is my new reference.  When I think back to some of the frankly music-free and un-enjoyable high-end systems I've heard at hifi shows that cost as much and more than this system (including a pair of speakers alone that cost 50% more than this complete system and were incapable of carrying any musical emotion), its great to know that there is something truly high end that can really play music.  Komri's aren't for me - they need a bigger room in which to work, but if I had that kind of cash and a room to put them in, they'd be worth seeking out.  And great that Linn continues to support its customers who have made such an investment in their products - offering their latest Exakt system approach to work with these out of production speakers.

So there we have it.  Great to meet Rock and many thanks to Pablo for his hospitality.  We've been invited back - there's no doubt that's an invitation I'll be keen to follow up.


Saturday 4 January 2014

System Evolution - New Page Created

How do you get from here:
to here?

Perhaps there was a bit too much time off work this festive season....Have a look at the latest new page added to the blog to find out one possible tortuous route:


Wednesday 1 January 2014

Linn 40th Anniversary Video

Linn have released a video montage of their 40th Anniversary celebrations here.

Read about the weekend here.  With photos here.