"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 22 October 2014

Column Inches

Thanks to Rococo Systems in London, I had the chance to listen to Linn's new Akudorik Exakt stands and speakers fed from the new Akurate Exakt DSM recently.  Here are some musings on the experience.

First, the venue. Our hosts Peter and Mary were very welcoming with snacks and a selection of drinks offerered and frequently refreshed. This particular part of Rococo systems is a couple of largish ground floor rooms in a substantial terraced property. Not quite Rococo in style, the fully panelled rooms and deep sofa are welcoming without being pretentious.  A wood floor is covered by a very large but thin rug. The speakers sat either side of a table upon which a large tv displayed the Kinsky control app (not Kazoo I noted) including the relevant artwork.  The Exakt Cat 5 cables disappeared out of the room to the AEDSM next door.

Its quite amazing to think that its now a year since Linn launched their Exakt technology and dome of the earliest pictures (and most accurate descriptions) were published here and plagrised on sites around the World.  Linn have gone through many explanations of the tech and are still doing so. From that initial KEDSM / Exakt 350 launch, the tech has been launched in Akubarik, Akurate and Klimax Exaktboxes, Akurate DSM and now addresses speakers such as the Komri, Keltik and 242. Further launches continue apace and the new Akudorik Exakt standmount speaker and the Akudorik Exakt stands (which combine Exakt engine, DACs and power amps suitable for the new speaker and soon to be usable with the older Akurate 212 and Majik 109 speakers) are the latest in the range. A lot of new products in just 12 months.

Alan Williams was the evening's host from Linn. Alan has many years of experience with Linn and has seen many changes and upgrades over the years. As such he's happy to talk about pretty much anything regarding the company and its products, the industry in general and, of course,  the music.  With about 10 of us in the room (including a record producer) the event was relaxed and casual. Alan's clearly presented Exakt many times now and remembers facts such as jitter rates in various products without the use of notes. For some in the room the Exakt technology pitch is a refresher, for others its an opportunity to learn anew. I think it takes most people 2 or 3 runs through to fully understand, some never will understand and some don't see the need to understand.

There was a talk through the basics of keeping everything digital for as long as possible, how phase and timing errors are corrected and how the drive units are measured and tolerances corrected.  Then some music. Then an explanation of the room optimisation feature, including showing the graphs of the room modes, then music with and without the room optimisation enabled.

So how did this system sound? Well, its not one of those systems that makes you go 'wow' the moment you hear it. That's not necessarily a bad thing as those systems are often something you wouldn't want to listen to for hours on end. I found it took me a while to settle into the sound. I'm used to floor standing speakers and it takes a while to stop being distracted by the lack of depth and weight to the sound. This was especially the case with 'Georgio by Moroder' by Daft Punk, but what is there was driving along very well and the fairly complex bass line carried the boogie factor well.  Simpler music such as The Beatles in 24bit was stunningly good - real insight into the sound of the instuments and nuances in the voices. Until now, I've been sceptical of the benefit of those releases, but now I've heard it I'm going to have to invest.

Metallica, also in 24 bit, was a revelation to those who haven't heard this before. Clarity and separation benefits heavy metal too.  Some baroque orchestral with organ showed that Linn haven't broken the laws of physics and the sheer scale and majesty of this kind of performance is still restricted with this pair of standmounts.

Vocals are very sweet and easy to follow, demonstrated with some Loudon Wainwright and London Grammar. The sophistication of cymbal work on Blues Company's Dark Day was rendered very well indeed.

The verdict? If you like standmounts (or your living accommodation and/or neighbours dictate them) then this combination of AEDSM and Exakt Akudorik will be worth a listen. Sophisticated, musical, easy to enjoy over a long listening session. However, for me, there's too much of a compromise. For not a huge %age extra cost, a Linn streamer with non-Exakt Akubarik floorstanders will fill that gap in pretty much the same footprint to bring scale and additional 'all enveloping' soundscapes.  Or wait for the possibility of an Exakt enabled subwoofer and see how that pans out in support of the Akudorik. I think I would prefer the wider range sound offered by the non-Exakt floorstanders over the greater apparent accuracy of the Exakt Akudoriks.

Thanks again to Alan, Peter and Mary at Rococo and Linn. I believe the speakers will now be back in their normal home playing in the local pub near Epping Forest.  Might be worth seeking out for a pint and a few tunes!

POST SCRIPT: Listening to London Grammar on my own system this morning helped put the Akudoriks in context a little more.  Compared to the Akudoriks, my own system has a touch of edge on the vocals and there's definitely some muddying of the instruments.  However, the depth and weight makes for a more "sumptuous" listen.  On balance I prefer the apparent accuracy of the Exakt Akudoriks but with the warmth and depth of the active Majik 140s.  So that'll still be the Exakt Akubarik then....  :-)

Saturday 18 October 2014

Majik Stress Relief

The Majik 109 is a small (9 litre to be precise) standmount speaker that I use as rears for surround duty, although they're very capable as main duty speakers too.  When using them in active mode (as I do), they need 3 pairs of loudspeaker cables to bring the signal from the power amps to each of the 3 drive units in each cabinet.  The obvious way to do this (at the time, about 18 months ago) was to use lengths of Linn's K600 speaker cable.  3 twisted pairs of cables are moulded into a very substantial black sheath that keeps the 3 pairs of signal cables a good 12mm apart.

This is what I also use on the main and centre speaker too.  For the main speakers, it stands on edge along the skirting boards and hides all the other cable mess behind it.  That's not the main reason for using it of course - its a high quality, solidly constructed cable with high purity copper, but is nothing more exotic than that and comes in at a relatively affordable price - unlike some cables out there!  Linn discontinued it during 2013, which is a shame, now only offering the bi-wire K400 cable that has a very similar construction, but only 2 pairs of cables rather than the 3 pairs.

Anyway, the point here is that K600 is very very heavy.  And when plugged into the back of the Majik 109s, right up there on top of their stands, the weight of the cable puts quite some stress on the soldered joints between the cable and the 4mm plugs.  I wasn't really very happy about this, but in the 18 months since they were installed, the connections are still going strong.

Here its clear to see the stress (particularly on the white supertweeter connection) on the connectors

Having many more things to be getting on with and, curiously, still being able to sleep well most nights, this never got any further attention, other than to ask on the Linn Forum if anyone had solved this.  There was collective shoulder shrugging.

So I put some thought into last week and started searching for an appropriate solution.  There was nothing obvious, so a bit of lateral thinking was applied.  A search on ebay for brakets gave a gazillion results, but adding "stainless steel" and -"shelf" into the mix narrowed it down somewhat.  I needed something that would either clamp the K600 to the lower part of the cabinet or allow for cable ties or something.  If it allowed me to utilised the existing screw holes for the "brakit" mounting system, even better.

Back panel of the Majik 109 showing the 6 sockets and below that the 4 pilot holes for the "brakit" mounting system

Took a while, but eventually I found something that might work.  So tonight they've been installed and work well.  They're actually described as L-shaped stainless steel cubicle brackets, so I guess they're intended for the lavatory installation industry.  But whatever, here's one fitted using a 6mm countersunk stainless steel screw and cup washer:

I was particularly keen on this design because it allows for 2 x cable ties to be fitted around the K600 cable, thereby providing a good support to the cable.  And it works, as can be seen below - the cable is now supported by the bracket and ties and the connectors are free to get on with their job with no physical stress.  A good solution at 99p per speaker.  Additional benefit - the cables are held flat to the backs of the stands too, so keep themselves that bit tidier.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Power Pictures by PS Audio

The main system has been powered through a PS Audio P5 mains regenerator for about 3 months now.  Essentially this takes the incoming AC mains, transforms this to DC, then re-generates an AC output.  Inside there seem to be a good few chunky components such as transformers, amplifier looking transistors and capacitors in addition to the cooling fans.

Along the way, the voltage is stablised to whatever level you choose to set and distortion of the AC sinewave is drastically reduced.  In the shop at Manchester, incoming distortion is around 2 to 2.5%.  Here at home it seems to be more in the 1.5 to 1.9% range.  Initially the higher distortion was seen during the day, but since the solar panels were installed and on brighter days, daytime incoming distortion seems to be very similar to evenings.  Output distortion tends to around the 0.1%, so a major reduction.

In terms of effect on the system, well, I don't think it has any effect on the emotional capabilities of the system but it does improve some of the more "hifi" aspects.  There's a definite improvement in imaging stability - vagueness about where an instrument might be is reduced, and it stays there.  Also, everything seems to be "freed up" from the speakers - a wider, more open soundstage across the room and front to back too.  There may be a touch more fine detail too, as a result (I presume) of a reduction of background noise.  But its the imaging and soundstage that makes the biggest impact.

The device has a front panel display that shows information about incomings and outgoings.

All outputs switched off

Just the streamer powered up

Running at volume level 55 for streamer, pre-amp and power amps

Its also possible to monitor through a web interface:

Full online screenshot showing labelling of the output sockets.  System is on but idle here and is only consuming 105W
These screenshots below are taken over a fairly short time period - around 15 minutes.  You can see the incoming voltage drift from 245.1V through to 246.7V which is fairly small, but I have seen as little as 235V and as high as 259V in the past.  You can see the incoming distortion is around 1.5 to 1.6% and consistent at 0.1% with output voltage varying by 0.2V.

Volume level 30 shows an additional 30W or so of consumption

Volume level 50 doesn't use much more power

Volume level 60 (the sort of volume I usually use when doing "proper" listening)
And a picture of the new day time power source:

Thanks to brianandtrevors.com for introducing me to this product.

Monday 13 October 2014

Musings Goes Analogue - Part 4 - RD11s Set-Up

Part One here
Part Two here
Part Three here

Didn't really take enough pictures of this process, so apologies for that.

Before any mass (ie the platters) were added to the deck, I lifted it up onto 2 x inverted storage boxes - they supported the deck down each side of the plinth.  A few pieces of card board packing under the storage boxes allows me to get the deck level in both directions.

Next was fitting of the inner platter and letting it sink into the oil in the bearing.

Inner Platter
Then the belt was fitted (to ensure that any adjustments to the suspension allow for the tension / springiness of the belt).  Then the platter was fitted upside down, then the mat on the top of that.  This ensures that the mass of the suspended part of the deck is correct, but allows for visibility of the drive belt - this helps to ensure that the belt can run without falling off the inner platter.

Using the 3 suspension adjustment nuts underneath the deck (visible when the base panel is removed - this deck doesn't have a base panel), I adjusted the suspension so that the armboard became parallel with the deck top plate.  I then flipped the main platter over and fitted the mat and checked for that the platter was level.  Found that the front left (looking at the deck) was too high, so slackened the suspension nut on that corner.  Flipped the platter back over and then ran the motor to make sure the belt stays on the inner platter.  It was fine first time, even when bouncing the suspension by pushing down on the spindle.

With the platter the right way up and with the mat onboard, a gentle push down on the spindle gave a nice clean vertical bounce - with about 8 bounces before it settles.  This has been the easiest suspended turntable I've ever set up.  Its almost as if it had a Rega arm on it all its life!
Suspension looking high on first time of looking at the platter installed - note the gap between the platter and the top plate
Once the suspension was set up, here you can see the closer gap between platter and top plate

Next is getting the cartridge lined up.   Using a card template supplied with the arm, all that was needed was to position the stylus on the "spot" and adjust the cart in the arm and the position of the template around the platter until the headshell was parallel with the lines on the template.  Once this was done, the cart mounting bolts were tightened up firmly, but not enough to damage the plastic mounting lugs on the cart.
Aligning the arm / cart on the template

Now the arm was balanced by moving the counterweight until the arm "floats" horizontally.  Once this was achieved the tracking weight gauge was turned so that 0 is at the top, then the counterweight and gauge are turned together towards the arm pivot until 1.8 grams was reading on the scale.  The anti-skate gauge is then turned to the same value.

Setting tracking weight

Deck all set up and playing music
Part 5 will deal with the build of the RD80SL deck with Linn LVX arm.

Monday 6 October 2014

Sneeker Project. Part 1

Inspired by this thread on the Linn Forum about a request for Linn to build a speaker system / dock, I spent a couple of hours in the garage tonight with scissors, cardboard and sticky tape.

I dug out some old Linn Knekt Diskreet ceiling speakers I picked up for a very small sum several years ago and pressed a SMSL T-Amp in to action.

Just for fun of course.

Here are the build pics:

First off, some tunes are needed whilst working.  Tonight it was FiiO X3, Linn Silver I/C, into Tidsbury Passive Pre-Amp, Linn Silver I/C Linn AV5125 then K20 speaker cable into the Ninkas shown below
The Katans and Ninkas, along with the AV5125 amp are part of another (unfinished!) project to experiment with digital active crossovers
First parts list picture - an SMSL stereo T-amp and its power supply.  This is not the best sounding T-amp and hence it has languished in its box for a long time.  There's also a i-Thing dock in the picture (the white box at the back) but I didn't use that this time - I think phono sockets will be a more versatile approach
Linn Kinekt Diskreet "ceiling" speakers in the box they've been in for at least 5 years.  Picked them up on ebay a long time ago for next to nothing, never found a use for them, until now.

Linn Diskreets out of their box

Selecting an appropriate "enclosure" for the mock-up.  Nothing but the best corrugated here!

Getting to work on development of the speaker mounts

Here's the T-amp with the front panel romoved, allowing for the Sneeker enclosure to be clamped between the amp's casing and its front panel.

Creating the aperture for the amp

Exquisite industrial design starting to take shape

Add caption

The latest in fabric construction bonding techniques

Mounting the amp inside the enclosure.  Note the nylon shock mounted dual-role dynamic power supply / amp support system  ;-)

Of course, equal length speaker cable was used.  In this case, high purity copper 42 strand from Maplin

Power cable (left), Linn Silver interconnects (centre) and speaker cables all wired up

Sophisticated sound damping added to the enclosure.  The volume of damping was carefully calculated - I used all the bits I had laying around in the garage, then ran out.

Rear view of the completed mock-up

The completed Sneeker mock-up

At the moment, its probably safe to say that it sounds "functional".

Part 2 will cover the upgrades and build into a decent box.  This will hopefully be slightly longer, much more sturdy, incorporate a Linn Roomamp and room to think about streaming technology further down the line.  Suggestion from a fellow Linn Forum member has been to incorporate Raspberry Pi as a streamer, which is an interesting idea and follows along with the very DIY nature of this project so far.

Friday 3 October 2014

Power Supply Upgrade

During the day, the hifi can now be listened to for "free"  :-)

MISSION 752 Freedom Speakers in Rosewood. ***SOLD***

Now SOLD.  Thanks

Fully functioning, very substantial near top of the range Mission 752 speakers for sale.

Look here if you're interested:  http://www.hifiwigwam.com/showthread.php?111564-Mission-752-Speakers-in-Rosewood

Tunes In The Garage

Assembling cheap but good secondhand stuff, listening for a while and selling on is part of how I keep my urgings to change kit in the main system at bay.

The main system stays relatively static, with the occaissional step forward when funds allow, but messing about with old stuff that was well respected in its day allows for the sampling of lots of kit whilst not breaking the bank.  Some of it sells for less than I paid, some for more and some for about the same.  Rough with the smooth and all that.

Then there are the bits that hang around for a bit longer.  They're still cheap, but are worth slotting into music somewhere about the house.

So here's the current system in the garage.  Listening to tunes when working on the car or the bikes or just tidying the place up makes the work seem less arduous.  Plus, during the winter, I'll plug the laptop into the system and watch some DVDs or cycling vids on YouTube whilst I try and become less unfit with the bike on the turbo trainer

So this £250 system consists of Squeezebox Touch (connected to QNAP NAS via Ethernet over mains), NAD 1240 pre-amp, NAD 2155 power amp and Mission 773e speakers (the earlier version with the leather look baffle trim.  Speakers hang from a shelf on the rafters, hence they're upside down.  This keeps them off the floor (which is good as that's a pretty in-hospitable environment - both for water when the car comes in wet and the danger of being kicked / damaged by box shifting etc).  They're upside down as they are floor standing speakers, so the theory is that the large shelf on the rafters is acting as though they were standing on a floor.