"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

Tuesday 22 April 2014

What Hifi Magazine Features Audiophile Musings' System On Their Record Store Day Page

WHF magazine encourage people to post up system pictures on Twitter every so often, so I gave it a whirl and they're featuring the system prominently on their Record Store Day page for 2014:


Update, 25 September 2014:  The link above has been amended by What HiF- and no longer takes you to the relevant part of their pages.  Seems to be here at the moment:


A Tale Of Two Yellos

Boris Blank and Dieter Meier - the heart of electronic / electronica / pop music creators and production team who call themselves Yello.  Or have done for many decades.  You can enjoy lots of their material here on Spotify.

They're frequently playing on my system, from the earlier stuff like "The Race" on the album "Flag", through complexities such as "Nervous" on "The Eye" to the latest (2009!) sophisticated and equally complex but far more subtle tracks with Heidi Happy and Till Bronner on the "Touch" album, I enjoy their quirkiness, sense of humour and unique blend of electronic music with real tunes rather than just beats.  With "Touch" a 10 year trend became very well resolved - a move to a more sophisticated, jazz inspired kind of direction. Bland even sings in a more traditional sense when dueting with Happy on the "Touch" track "Kiss In Blue".  And pretty much every one of their albums has been a sound quality benchmark of its time.

At the Scalford Hifi Wigwam show this year I showcased the "Touch Yello" virtual concert DVD throughout the day on a modest Rotel / Mission fronted system with a Dell projector and it seems to have gone down reasonably well with a good number of visitors.  That's reported here, but is an aside to this review really.  Today I'm going to review Yello's respective solo releases - they've come about 4 or 5 months apart - an interesting departure, but hopefully not the end of future releases for them together as Yello.

You can read about Yello in the usual places, wikipedia for example, where you'll get the history, discography etc.  I don't have their very earliest stuff as I don't like it so much, but have all the major releases from 1987's "One Second" through to the VW Golf promotion of 2012 "The Key To Perfection".  My first real experience of their stuff was when "The Race" was used as a backing track to a 5 minute or so summary video of Patrick Snijers' incredible driving skill as he took his BMW M3 to a stunning victory on his first visit to the Isle of Man in 1988.  Playing on a big screen as the prelude to the rally's awards ceremony, it certainly made an impression when matched to those images.  Still one of the best pieces of driving I've had the pleasure to witness first hand.

Imagine this:


With this as the soundtrack:

So that was worth further investigation. Hence began my interest in Yello and their music that's never really gone away in the intervening 26 years (gulp!).  They're pretty experimental in their approach.  The music tends to have a few constant features - a very clear beat, melodic & very deep bass lines, multiple layers of complexity, mixing electronics & orchestral arrangements and a very quirky sense of humour.  How many bands can include Shirley Bassey and "Tweaky" from the Buck Rogers TV programme as guest vocalists for example?  There's diversity, sophistication and a unique approach across their work, and whilst it doesn't always hit the mark, most of the time it works well, as long as you like that kind of stuff.  Give it a try if you don't know them yet.

Now, after so many years working together, they've released solo projects.  The first to market was Boris Blank in partnership with Malia with "Convergence".  This week the pre-ordered signed copy of Dieter Meier's "Out Of Chaos" landed on my doorstep.  These albums aren't on general release in the UK, but they are available through the likes of Amazon.de using an Amazon.co.uk account id.  "Out of Chaos" can be legally downloaded in full CD quality on junodownload.co.uk  "Convergence" is available as a CD quality download at qobuz, if you're lucky enough to be in the right territory. Unfortunately I've been unable to locate at 24 bit / 96kHz or similar quality versions as yet.

Malia and Boris Blank - Convergence
On Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/album/6EqhJyJT6R5HZTfENZPyqP

If you were hoping that Yello would continue the direction they were taking with 2009's "Touch" album, particularly those tracks with Heidi Happy on vocals, then this would probably have been a great follow up album.

What's there?  All those lush Boris Blank hallmarks are there:  deep, tune-laden bass lines, somewhat mysterious and layered percussion, shadowy underpinnings (you might not spot some of the subtleties until the third or fourth listen), strong structure, changes in direction and masses of layered synthesized orchestral stuff.  Malia's jazz / african vocals are superb throughout, as are the strengths of the song and tune writing.  With only one cover on the album ("Fever") the quality of the songs from this pairing are impressive - varied, fresh, sophisticated and well suited to the blend of electronica with jazz.  Yet again, production values and sound quality are sky high.

What's not there?  The quirky humour is distinctly absent - this is almost Boris Blank saying that this is his "grown up" approach to music.  And that's great.  It would be a mistake for a Yello album to move away from the humour, but here, with Malia, its the right approach.  It doesn't mean that there is no humour in this album, its just much more subtle rather than up front.  I often think that Yello's humour is probably what prevents them from reaching a wider audience - it's likely to drive some listeners to not take them seriously as musicians.  This is a shame, as they are very serious about their humour!  There are no really "edgy" tracks here, some might take it as a bit too smooth.

Celestial Echo: We kick off with some deep, echoing, haunting electronic bass drums and some subtle effects as Malia advises us that she's the mad storyteller.  She seems to be out to save the soul of a lover and to offer comfort.  There's some doubt about how this ends - there's no clue about if the offer is taken up.  Underneath the story the bass drums continue their tune and there are instrumental interludes which are impressively subtle but don't add much to the storyline.  I get the feeling it went well, but I don't really care too much as its not really very involving.

Embrassable Moon: The pace picks up a touch here and Malia's voice is more expressive - there's a raspy edge now, which is more engaging.  This is another positively spun tune on a familiar theme ("I live to breath the air that you breathe") with some lilting percussion under a keyboard and sax led melody.  It drifts along and then fades out without you really noticing.

I Feel It Like You:  Perhaps a touch of Yello quirkiness here?  Its a contrast to the first 2 tracks with a rhythm that bounces along a little playfully and some of that synthesised flicks and tricks in the percussion that will be familiar to fans.  The guitar riff and hand claps /  finger clicks drive the track along well, along with splashes of horn section.  Again this is a positive track, but there's a playful mystical twist to the way its structured and sung - its a love rekindled rather than a given.

Touching Ghosts:  Oooh, now we're getting going.  This tracks opens with a swimming, swooning melodic line and Malia sounding a little melancholy.  The voice and sad lyrics are contrasting with the more playful melody of the instruments.  Pauses in the tune give you time to reflect - there's mystery in here (and a reference to a later track with "I put a spell on you" used as a backing line), deep bass melody is inter-played with brass interjections and the snowflakes keep falling.  This track leaves me wanting to hear a longer version - it could develop into something very delicious indeed.

Claire Cadillac:  I can't quite get my head around what this one's about.  But there's no doubt that Malia's showing off here vocal versatility in this one - one moment its a bit girlish and playful, the next its multi-tracked lushness.  I think it could be about jealously of another woman who "has it all".  There's synthesised dulcimer and other unexpected elements in here.  This track is both playful and sinuous at the same time.  With the prevous track and this one, I'm hooked into this album now.

Raising Venus:  Sadness and ruthlessness are the themes here.  She'll burn you.  But its also very sinister and that comes through in both Malia's vocals, the tension in the music and the interjections from synths and other squarks and squeeks in true Yello style.  But the way Malia sings "Little Red Riding Hood drives through, she does not cry, boo hoo" is like a really unpleasant story teller trying to scare the life out of a bunch of primary school kids.  And me.  This is a slightly disturbing track and rather good for it.

Fever:  I refreshing take on this classic track.  Constructing the backing track very sparsely from drums and a single synth with trademark (but very difficult to describe) noises and punctuation, swinging along at a very gentle pace transposes this track from exciting and celebratory to something a bit more predatorial. 

Smouldering Ashes: Smoldering voice.  Malia talks us through this track, and you could probably say this is the one track that Dieter Meier could deliver equally well.  The percussion bounces along in the background with long trumpet cords tying the drums to the melody.  Very sparse again here.  Its one of those tracks that sounds very simple, but probably took many hours of experimentation to ensure that the right balance of tension and emphasis is delivered.  Its another song that's about something that's not happy.  There's something in there about being together but as part of possession rather than partnership and then there's something about that going wrong too.  These unhappy topics really do work well in this collaboration between Malia and Blank.

Magnetic Lies:  This and the next 2 tracks drive this album towards a real songwriting crescendo.  Deep staccatto bass lines with swooping instrumental fills blend superbly with Malia's seductive sweeping multi-tracked vocals.  Its about cheating in relationships.  There are some elements where it the chord changes are very much carrying an air of that cheating, but enjoying it too.  There's one particular chord change that needs a system to go deep to work fully - on my main system it goes deep enough to mean that the lower notes in the chord change are reproduced and its distinctly melancholy.  On the dining room system that can't get that low the chord change sounds somewhat happier.  Interesting to hear how the system's ability to resolve the recording can change the emotional content.

Tears Run Dry:  Oh, how the sadness continues in Malia's world, but that's good for us because it produces another stonking track.  The timing of the musical phrasing in this track is superb.  A walking bass line dominates, but various muted trumpets (probably not real ones of course!) build the feel, along with the occasional echoing percussion exclamation points.  "Tears run dry, what's left to try?  Tears run dry, you lost all your balls".  Says it all really, except that this is another track that deserves another couple of minutes of development but ends too soon and leaves you wanting for more.

Turner's Ship:  More mystery.  More echoing deep drums, but this time they're slower paced, spaced out and take a long time to fade away.  Then there's the surprise of a very African tribal chant which is positive sounding and tuneful.  Then Malia cuts in, supported by hand claps and percussion that will be familiar to those who know "The Key To Perfection", along with multiple complex arrangements of cow bells, cymbals, bongos and other percussion, to deliver another heart-wrenching set of lyrics.  Not love this time, but it would seem to be the tragedy of hunger and the imbalance of poverty to wealth.  Sobering.  Another really engaging track.

Conclusion:  After the first couple of tracks that are more positive and light in outlook but which are a little bland, this album really gets going.  Once Malia gets into the meat of the serious, melancholic and in some cases downright twisted/tragic topics the musical quality of the album transcends the slick and sophisticated presentation and becomes a more engaging listen.  Not to be missed by any Yello enthusiast, but also deserves to be embraces by a much wider audience as a great mix of electronic with jazz.

Dieter Meier - Out of Chaos

If you're familiar with Meier's contribution to the Yello albums, that gruff, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes playful, sometimes downright weird deep baritone voice will be very familar.  Is it singing? Not really.  Is it rap?  Nope.  I guess it's more of an in-tune talk really.  You'll not mistake it, that much is sure.

What's there?  This is a step back in time for a Yello listener.  If you consider the direction of "The Eye", "Touch" and "The Key To Perfection" as the way Yello has developed over the last 10 years, then Meier's solo project doesn't really pursue that path further, but steps back to the more individualistic work and is better aligned to the left field of electronic music.  The "singing" is more of that deep tuneful talking too.  Sound quality is decent, but doesn't feel outstanding.

What's not there?  Well, you don't get that super sophisticated jazz-infused lushness of "Convergence", nor even of Yello's own work with the likes of Heidi Happy.  Curiously, the humour's not there either - this must come from the guys working together rather than them as individuals.

Conclusion:  I was going to write notes about each of the tracks.  But, to date, I just don't feel there's enough differentiation between the tracks to merit writing about them individually.  On a Yello album, Deiter Meier's vocal contributions are well placed and welcome - they're usually on the more sinister / quirky songs and are great when other tracks are pure instrumentals or feature guest vocalists.  But track after track, they become rather wearing and lose there mysterious edge - they just become a bit monotonous.  There are various musical stylings under the lyrics but they're hard to associate with - its a more electronic kind of sound - it doesn't sound as mature as Yello's and Blank's offerings.  Some tracks I've still to get all the way through, and there's a doubt that I'll bother.  So overall, rather a disappointment.

So there we have it.  I'm still looking forward to the next Yello album (hopefully there will be one) and would welcome more from Boris Blank and whoever he cares to collaborate with.  On the flip side, I won't worry too much if Meier produces another solo effort - you might like it, but its not for me.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Chester Show 2014 - General Thoughts

Well done Acoustica.  This was a really impressive step up from last year's show - both in format, layout, manufacturer representation and the quality of sound being produced.

Rooms as follows:

High end Naim / Focal
Mid-range Naim / Focal (didn't get to this room, unfortunately the Aria 936s were on show and I enjoyed them at Bristol)
Audiovector (another one we didn't get to, so not sure on the electronics)
Arcam (yet another one we missed - possibly AV?)
STAX headphones
B&W D802 with Classe electronics
Chord cables
2 x vinyl sellers
Cabasse streamer with Naim and Kudos
Kudos with Bauer / Linn / Naim

In one room (with mid-range Naim electronics and Ovator 400s), there was a demo of Daft Punk's latest album with one track played 3 times - the audience were asked to say which of the three tracks was the 16/44.1 version and which was the 24/88.2 version.  One format was played once and the other twice, but the audience didn't know which was which and the streamer display was covered up to hide the information.  There was a wide variety of opinions of which track was which, but no one in the room got it right on the occasion we were in there.  Fascinating.  The point being made by the demonstrator was that this is a well recorded and produced album and as such, will sound great in either format.  Alan Sircom from HiFi+ magazine was in the room, so it'll be interesting to see if he reports on this.

There were plenty of signs to help with locating the rooms, the rooms were mostly reasonable in size and shape (the high-end Naim / Focal room was the exception) and it all felt a bit more considered and set out than in 2013.

2 small downsides - we didn't leave enough time to get round all the rooms, and £2.95 for a cup of tea and a biscuit is a bit steep - didn't see anyone buying any of that.  Last year's show had some highlights, but there were more this year.  Definitely a decent afternoon's entertainment and some interesting kit to listen to.

Linn Exakt Starts To Trickle Down The Range - Exakt Akurate DSM and Exakt Akubarik Announced

Great news from Linn.  They've extended their Exakt processing system down the range into the Exakt Akurate DSM (the streamer, ADC and pre-amp) and the Exakt Akubarik speakers which have the per-channel DAC and per-channel power amp built into the aluminium housing down the back of the speaker.

Looking forward to listening to this!


Update 22/04/2014:

Linn have officially launched this now on their own website:  http://www.linn.co.uk/systems/see-the-range/akurate

Whilst it's clear from the Linn Forum discussions that the analogue to digital converter in the Akurate Exakt DSM is simpler and slightly lower quality than that in the Klimax Exakt DSM, there's no word yet on the DAC engineering in the Exakt engines.  The ones in the Klimax Exakt Tunebox and Exakt engines are based on the ones in the Klimax DS/1, so I'm assuming the DACs in the Exakt Akubarik engines are based on those in the Akurate DS/0.  In which case they will perform at a distinctly lower level of quality (although still very high quality of course).

Chester Show 2014 - Dynaudio

Nice sounding Excite floorstanders here - fed by a SuperUnity from Naim.  In the same league as the Kudos X3 I think, somewhat different presentation with a good attempt at lower bass frequencies and a touch of top-end stridency from time to time.  But given the much lower cost front end of this system compared to the Kudos system, and impressive sound from the Dynaudios.
In the next room was a pair of the Xeo standmount wireless speakers.  They're active so all you need is a laptop to which you connect a USB transmitter and a mains supply to each of the speakers.  Very simple.  Would be great as a way of extending and existing system across multiple rooms.  Speakers sounding pretty good for their size and price, a touch boomy, but perhaps this was a room issue, perhaps not.  Enjoyable and very convenient - certainly the best sounding wireless system I've heard to date. 

Chester Show 2014 - Chord

Here we heard some cable comparisons, at prices in the stratosphere.  And yes, the upgrade from 3rd from best to 2nd best to the Sarum arrays was there to be heard.  But I still can't get my head around a pair of speaker cables that cost £2500.  Its difficult to justify and the changes weren't of the magnitude that a good Naim power supply can bring, or an upgrade from a mid-range DAC to a top-end DAC.
And now for the controversial bit.  Chord are now making Ethernet cables.  Except they're not.  They claim they make streaming system cables - by focussing on the "downstream" flow of bits of data with the "upstream" being untouched as its just about control instructions, not the music.  How you can differentiate is beyond me, but I'm not a network engineer, nor am I a cable engineer, just passing along the explanation from the man from Chord.
Anyway, using a Naim NDX into what I think was  SuperNait and then along to Kudos Super 10 speakers, the only thing to be changed in the comparison was the Ethernet cable.  The volume control was not touched, the track was the same track, the NAS and network components (router and switch) were not changed.  The NAS was connected to the switch by a Chord Sarum Tuned Array streaming cable, then the 3m or so length between the switch and the NDX was swapped from £ patch cable to ££ Chord C-Stream and then to ££££££ Chord Sarum Tuned Array streaming cable.
Here I am, probably one of the most likely people to say that this will make no difference to the music at all.  And pretty determined to be very very sceptical about any demo.  But there it was, all looking above board and also very distinctly audible (going both ways by the way - up and down the cost spectrum).  I treated reports of differences being heard with a great deal of caution and I expect you to be doing exactly that.  Most impressive of the demos was a Jake Bugg track that sounds like its recorded using some really cheap equipment in a bathroom (it might be that they intended for it to sound like that?) but it really was virtually impossible to listen to, so harsh and gritty it is.  With the Chord Sarum, it became easier to listen to for a little longer, with Jake's voice easier to hear and the instrumentation being more distinct too.  Its still an awful recording, but we managed to listen to about a minute of it rather than 10 seconds!  It was still very rough.

The cable was then swapped back and the track became horrible again. I often find going back in a change is more telling because there's always the risk that familiarity with the music means you're more likely to start hearing subtleties missed in first hearings.  Of course, if the apparent improvement in sound was purely down to familiarity then it would seem to get better again when listening one more time on putting the system back as it was. 

As for the so called 'expectation bias', well, if it exists then my expectations that there would be ababsolutely no change at all would've been borne out. But weren't. 

There were about 6 others I
in the room, all of whom thought they could hear a difference. 

I'm stumped to explain it, and the man from Chord was very apologetic for the ridiculous pricing, but there it is.  Very surprising.  I don't think the differences remotely reflect the price of the cable (£1,600 for 1m!) but it is very interesting that an effect can be heard.  It'll be great to find someone who can work out what's going on here and can reproduce the same cable effect for a tenner or so.  Will need to give the C-stream a try at home, to see if the effect can be replicated in a more independent context with different networking components, and to compare direct cabling to just the last bit of cable from mains over Ethernet.
I didn't think I'd ever be typing a report like this, but there it is. Bizarre.

Chester Show 2014 - Rega

Saturn-R CD player, Elicit-R amp and what looked like RS5 speakers (but they could be RS3s - however, I remember them looking tiny and the ones today looked small but not tiny, so I think they were RS5).  I'd really like the manufacturers to put signs up telling us what's playing - but I've decided that they do this to try and drive us punters to strike up a conversation.  Which then interrupts the music...
A nice sounding system this one, nothing outstanding but nothing really of note to complain about either.  I do like Rega's understated approach to their products and their realistic systems and prices.

Chester Show 2014 - Kudos, Naim, Bauer and Linn

Well, yet again, Kudos provided an excellent sounding system.  Whilst not in the league of the Classe / B&W system in terms of scale and detail retrieval, it was equally musical and very much a room you'd want to sit and spend some time in.
Sources were Bauer DPS turntable / Naim Aro arm / Dynvector XV1 or a Linn KDS/1 into a SuperNait amp and the not yet released Kudos X3 floorstanders.
We listened to Blues Company's Dark Day on the streamer and London Grammar's Hey Now on the turntable.  Both tracks were utterly compelling to listen to and fully enjoyable in all the usual hifi terms, but also on the basis of a musical performance worth paying attention to.  You may know that my local Naimist has the Kudos Super 20 speakers and they're a decent listen, and these X3s are clearly from the same stable and are effectively a baby Super 20 in the way they sound and perform.
Available from July 2014 they're just under £2200 a pair.  Note that the speaker cables feeding them (Chord Sarum Array) were about twice the price of the speakers themselves...

Chester Show 2014 - Naim and Focal

Thankfully, Naim's top end system (on display today) did 2 good things.  It avoided the Ovator loudspeakers and it wasn't in the massive vaulted roof barn building that the hotel uses for events such as weddings and parties.
Here we had a formidable pile of boxes from Naim.  Streaming provided by NDS / 555PS DR, control by NAC252 / SuperCap, power from the NAP300 and NACA5 speaker cables.  This lot was piled up on the (well to me anyway) attractive Naim Fraim rack.  Fed by about £2000 worth powerline mains cables and some fancy Perspex transparent distribution blocks the signal went off to drive a pair of Focal Scala Utopias.  Not as big and imposing as the Grand Utopias, but pretty substantial all the same.  They were in piano gloss black and exhibited a bit of orange peel effect in the paintwork, which would've been a reason to reject them back to the manufacturers if it'd been my money buying them.
I think this was easily the most expensive of a range of reasonably expensive systems on offer this weekend.  So it should've been the best, you'd be right to expect.
I'm going to make this clear again - I've yet to hear a Focal speaker system from their upper ranges (so the Diablo and above then) that I've got to grips with.  They just sound so technical and hifi to me, not really flowing with music that I'd want to listen to.  And we have the same story here too.  This system was massively better than the big Naim / Ovator rig from the 2013 show, but they did have a much much better room to work in.  Even then, there was a high frequency ringing in the room - its a fairly large room and apart from the carpet and the small number of lightweight curtains, there wasn't any soft furnishings in there at all.  So bearing that in mind it wasn't a bad sounding system, it just wasn't to my taste.  A touch boomy as it was, perhaps the speakers were too close to the rear walls, but they weren't that close.  The system also sounded better from the 3rd and 4th row of seats.

Chester Show 2014 - Classe & B&W

Here we have a Classe pre-amp / DAC, power amp and B&W 802 speakers being fed from the USB output on an Apple MacBook.  This was joint best of the systems we heard today (but we didn't get to every room).  I've not heard B&Ws sound this good before - they've always seemed to be part of a system that delivered syrupy warmth and a rather rosy outlook.  Note I said system here, not that all B&Ws always sound this way.
Anyway, today, on the end of this Classe digital system I heard real depth, tightly controlled bass and dynamics, sweetness without being dull, stunning female vocals presented rock solid in the centre of the room, clearly defined instruments and a truly musical flow.  I haven't heard Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side on every system I've listened to, but today was the best I've heard that track played to date.
Marvellous, very enjoyable.  Didn't hear anything particularly rock or bass driven, so there's more to hear with this combo, but it really did impress today. 

Chester Show 2014 - Stax

Last year at the Acoustica Chester show, the upstairs landing area was occupied by a small system with dinky speakers, but it really wasn't a fair place to demonstrated a system - odd space and too much background noise.
This year, the space was occupied by a specialist vinyl / CD seller and a good range of STAX headphones with their matching amps.  A much better use of the space - well done Acoustica.
As for the STAX, well this was something I was really looking forward to, as I've never had the chance to try a set of electrostatic headphones before.  Having listened to some rather enjoyable Grados at the Bristol show just over a month ago, I was expecting to be really impressed with these cans, but it just didn't happen.  They got better across the range as the price went up, but not in the way the Grados did - they were small step changes and even when I got to the top of the ones of offer here, I wasn't stunned or amazed.  They're nice, but I was expecting extraordinary detail and imaging.  I don't think they were held back by the source - with Ayre Acoustics providing the front end and playing Marc Cohn's eponymous CD.  A bit plasticky in build too.  Sadly, underwhelming for me.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Acoustica Chester - Hifi Show 12/13 April 2014

Went to this show last year, there's a report here.

Not sure if I'll make it this year, due to other plans, but here are the details:

Dates: 12 & 13 April 2014
Venue: Doubletree by Hilton Chester
Exhibitors so far confirmed:
  • Arcam
  • Audiovector Loudspeakers
  • Bowers & Wilkins Loudspeakers
  • Chord Cables
  • Classe Electronics
  • Dynaudio Loudspeakers
  • Focal JM Lab Loudspeakers
  • Kudos Loudspeakers
  • Lyra Cartridges
  • Music on Vinyl specialist record dealer
  • Naim Audio
  • Rega Research
  • Stax Headphones

Naim NDS / 555PS DR Update - The Three Week Itch

If you remember back to early March 2014, I posted an article on the Linn Klimax DS/1 vs the Naim NDS / 555PS DR streamers, in a mainly Naim system with Kudos speakers.  Here's the link to that story.

Most electronics (and pretty much every pair of speakers) seem to benefit from something referred to as "burn-in".  This is the idea that the components are not working at their ideal when brand new, and some usage allows them to settle down and reach their optimum operating parameters.  Some say that's rubbish (probably based on some theory or skepticism rather than actual experience, or maybe their experience has been with components that don't benefit), some say its essential.  Cyrus electronics have a large print message on the inside of the box lid saying that users should expect the components to burn-in and change their sound quality over the first few weeks of use.  I've heard this with Naim electronics too - certainly Richard's NDX improved over time.

The first NDS listen was a comparison against the Linn on a busy evening on the night before the Scalford show and we were listening to the NDS that had been used as the demo unit for the Naim Statement amplifier at the Bristol Sound & Vision show - so it had about 3 days solid use under its belt.  The 555PS DR was at least 6 months old and has been powering the NDX during that time.

And so, to pick up where the story left off, we had a Linn DS sounding very controlled and considered against an NDS that just wanted to get on with the job, leaving me less than involved because things were too pushy and edgy - I couldn't relax into the emotion or flow of the music.  Great with female vocals though - more texture and colour (not colouration) than the Linn.  And Richard (who has the Naim / Kudos system and the NDS on demo) wondering if it was going to be right for him.

Now we're three weeks on and the NDS is a permanent fixture in Richard's system.  So he's either forgotten the Porsche or the NDS has settled in somewhat.

Using the usual mix of artists such as Eagle Eye Cherry, Blues Company, Ana Brun etc., we had a bottle of Budvar in hand and listening commenced (there was red wine last time, so the alcohol relaxation factor was pretty much balanced across the 2 listening sessions...).  Richard had warned me that things would not be all they seemed last time.  And this was proven to be true.  At first I was very quiet, listening intently, making sure I could take in what was going on.  Subtle this ain't.  And this time I don't mean the way the Naim attacks the music, I mean the change in that 3 week period.  This box has really matured in that time, and maybe there is more to come.  That Naim enthusiasm is still there in spades but the stridency has all but disappeared - the edginess does still happen, but it seems much more related to the quality of the recording being played - its not there as part of the standard mix of attributes.  Imaging has a touch more depth too - not just width now, although from memory I still think the Linn is better in this area.  Another thing that's changed is the clarity of vocals in the mix - male or female singers are now more distinct - less swamped - although, to be fair I hadn't really noted this in the earlier listen, perhaps the other more significant challenges in the sound were overpowering more subtle observations.  There seems to be more subtle details across all the range of music and instruments - there's definitely more layers of detail under detail to be heard.  The system even seems to get some deeper notes than on my own system, which was a suprise given the compact dimensions of those Kudos Super 20 floorstanders.

We come to a concensus - the NDS is a very different beast to 3 weeks previous.  It seems a bit bizarre that the "burn-in" should be so significant.  A replay of the Linn vs Naim bake-off is something we should go back to now, perferrably in my system to try and give us some balance.

There's also concensus on how we should describe the differences between the Linn and Naim streamers.  There's probably little, if anything, to choose between them in terms of detail retreival, but their characters are very different.  We're listening to some studio recordings and the Naim is delivering them much more as though the artists were performing live.  And that's a key part of its character - a live sound, an enthusiastic sound.  By contrast, on those same studio recordings the Linn doesn't add a "live" character to the music, rather it presents a studio session where the musicians seem to have put in that extra couple of rehearsals, as though they are striving for that extra bit of accuracy, more craftsmanship in the way they are playing.  I love that "attention to detail" kind of presentation - as though the musicians care about what they're doing and how it will emotionally impact on the listener.  The Naim, well that's keen to let you know there are human beings involved in producing the music, and it should sound live!

Makes you wonder why Naim would use a brand new out of the box NDS to demo their Statement amp, it could've sounded so much better.  As I said at the time in the Bristol Show report, the Naim Statement room would impress you if you liked to listen to hifi.  If they'd burnt in their streamer, I might've been reporting that it would impress you if you liked listening to live music!

Cheshire Audio Show, 15th June 2014

There's a new Audio Show at Cranage Hall (near Holmes Chapel) on 15th June 2014. Free parking and entry (by ticket from the website).

A few interesting brands are there, as are brianandtrevors (of House of Linn):


Thursday 3 April 2014

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Copying CDs (For The Right Reasons) To Become Legal in the UK

At last, some sense prevails.

For copyright materials that don't have any copy protection, it will become legal to copy those materials for personal use on other formats (e.g. ripping a CD to MP3 to allow play on a different device).  However, copying for someone else's use will remain illegal.  In effect from 1st June 2014

This, at last, makes some sense, except it would still be useful to be able to legally make a back up copy of DRM protected content of course.