Friday, 13 May 2011

Tsakiridis price reductions

With ever spiralling costs most manufacturers have understandably been putting their prices up recently, and I have been very busy for the last few weeks amending prices on our website to ensure we're up to date. However in amongst the thick wedge of new price lists I've had to work through was a major surprise.

Greek amplifier manufacturer Tsakiridis (pronounced with a silent 'T') have reduced their prices, and not by a small amount. Due to a seemingly rather ruthless strategy to get market share their prices have dropped substantially, as an example the Achilles 300B single ended monoblocks that delighted us earlier this year have dropped from £1,945 to £1,350 (are there any cheaper European made 300B SE monoblocks? We can't think of any). The mighty 845 Orfeus monoblocks (pictured below) have gone from £3,455 to just under £2,400 (!), and the delightful Alexander remote controlled pre amp from £1,600 to just £1,120.
When we first auditioned the Tsakiridis range we were very impressed by their sound and keen pricing, so this current reduction seems quite incredible, we highly recommend an audition!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Systems feature: valve starter system

We've wanted to feature systems for a long time, as it's far too easy to get caught up on individual items rather than look at a system as a whole. Knowing quite how best to feature them on the main website was the stumbling block, so we hope that this blog will be the ideal home for these sorts of articles.
The first system we wanted to put together was to show just how good an entry level valve based system really can be. The system detailed here costs under £1,200 at the time of writing (excluding cables/stands, please see main website for individual item pricing and further details on each item), the lions share of which goes on the wonderful Pure Sound A10 valve amplifier. This makes a perfect foundation for a good system, as it has a sound that is both richly textured and dynamic. It's relatively low (pure class A) power output of 10 watts means a little care with speakers is required, but the natural choice on a budget has to be the Q Acoustics 2020. These have light and responsive paper bass drivers and gel wonderfully with the amplifier.

To top it off we used the excellent Teac PD-H600 CD player as a source, which is a good match to the other items in the system both sonically and cosmetically. Of course if preferred the Rega RP1 or Edwards Audio TT1 turntable could be substituted/added for vinyl replay, all you'd need to do is add a phono stage like the Project Phonobox or Rega Fono Mini.

So to the sound, this is a system that doesn't really seem to have any obvious flaws or limitations, the mid band and upwards are very lucid and refined, but not lacking in get up and go. Lower frequencies are very good considering the small size of the speakers and they're efficient enough that the system will play loud enough to easily cater for most people in the average size room. Imaging is precise and spacious (these speakers really excel in this area) with reasonable depth (like most speakers it gets deeper if they're bought further into the room but at the expense of some bass reinforcement).

To get great results from this system doesn't take much work, simply add some Talk Cable 3 speaker cable and a good entry level interconnect from chord or Atlas. This is the sort of system that will happily work on shelves and units, especially to start with, but for best results good supports are recommended. The Q Acoustics speaker stands seem well thought through and are very good value for money, however as an upgrade the Something Solid SL stands bring greater bass and definition. Supporting the electronics on a Something Solid VMR or EXR rack or similar will bring further gains.

Often over looked, but very worthwhile is adding a sub woofer, many people are automatically against such things due to experience of their misuse in poor car audio and home cinema setups (I hope to be writing about this again soon), but with a little care in setup the results can be seamless, simply making the speakers sound like much larger and dearer models without compromising the midband quality. Finding good budget sub woofers is often tricky, but here we look to Q Acoustics again, their 2070 is astonishing, not only is it almost impossibly cheap (from £235 at the time of writing) but I really cannot fault it - its bass is clean and extended, never overblown (if setup properly) and times so well that it doesn't slow or muddle the sound one bit. For the ultimate integration and performance use two, one close to each main speaker for true stereo - overkill perhaps, but the combined cost is still quite small and the performance anything but.
So there we have it, a system that is at home as a main system as it is as a discreet second system for study/office use, one that doesn't compromise on refinement yet is still a huge amount of fun and is very expandable if you ever get the itch to upgrade.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Rega Fono Mini to be discontinued

Rega announced this week that their budget phono stage, the Fono Mini is being discontinued, their press release said:

"We have recently learnt that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan seriously affected the factory in which the sockets for the FONO MINI were sourced and it has now closed permanently. We had an order in place with this company which we have now been informed they can no longer fulfill."

This socket is quite an unusual design (pictured below), so they cannot be sourced elsewhere, and once the remaining stock have sold out there will be no more (we currently have just a handful left).
They did use this as an opportunity to inform us of the replacement they have been working on that is scheduled for a July 2011 launch. This new phono stage will also have a USB output included, which whilst very convenient for those people transferring LPs onto CD does cause me a little concern. For a start there are already lots of similar units on the market, but more than that it will almost certainly put the price up due to the extra complexity (the great thing about the Fono Mini was its incredibly low price) and lastly including the required Analogue to digital conversion is bound to cause noise which is the last thing you want in such close proximity to a delicate phono input - unless Rega have been very careful with power supplies and positioning/screening it’s almost impossible to avoid.

Then there’s the question as to whether a USB output is really that necessary. Most people are unaware that their PC probably already has a line level input that would be perfectly suitable when used from their existing amplifier/phono stage and if not an external sound card can be added very cheaply and quickly (especially ideal for use with laptops). This also allows you to set the recording levels correctly (to allow good resolution without risking clipping), rather than put up with the 'best guess' that you will naturally get with a non adjustable design with integral A/D conversion.

So I remain to be convinced this new model will be a true replacement for the excellent Fono mini, but then Rega have a habit of surprising me, so it will be very interesting to see what they come up with.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Rega Brio R announced

Rega have just released some details of new Brio, their entry level amplifier. As expected it's in the half width case as shared with the new DAC and from the sound of the press release is quite a redesign, with a new output stage (still 50 watts per channel), improved phono stage, improved power supplies and of course, remote control. Like the DAC it will be available in either Black or silver finish.

The biggest surprise is the price, which is higher than we were expecting at £480 and quite a jump up from the old Brio. Quite whether they've captured the magic that the old Brio had remains to be seen, we should have one here as soon as they're in production to find out, however in the mean time please don't forget we can still supply the wonderful 'old' Brio at just £255 whilst socks last - an absolute bargain in our opinion.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Audio World show report

I had intended it to be a blog post, but it worked out rather longer than intended, so I've uploaded our show report onto our website and it can be viewed here.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Rega DAC report

One of our customers and friends has written an excellent report upon the Rega DAC on his blog, to view his impressions please click here

Friday, 18 March 2011

Edwards Audio headphone amplifier preview

I couldn't resist posting a couple of pics of the pre production Edwards Audio headphone amplifier that has just been dropped off by head honcho of Edwards Audio, Kevin.

The model shown here is anticipated to cost in the region of £400 and will also double as an active four input line level pre amp. Naturally I couldn't resist a sneaky listen and can confirm that even with the standard power supply (like all products from Edwards Audio it can be upgraded by adding larger power supply) it sounded quite superb (auditioned with Grado headphones via Consonance CD2.2 Reference Linear). In fact I liked it so much I wasn't going to let Kevin prise it out of my hands, so for a brief while it's available for audition here! 

A cheaper version will also be made in a more basic case, without the active pre amp stage and with only two inputs, if it sounds even half as good as this one, it should cause the competition a lot of sleepless nights.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Q Acoustics range

Our more affordable speaker range has have been proving a bit frustrating recently, a combination of some of our favourites going up in price, being discontinued or ‘improved’ (with dire sonic consequences) means we were left with a couple of holes in our range. I’ve recently written about the rather amazing Q Acoustics 2010 on the website, so wont repeat myself, but nary have we found a budget range that appears to have been so well thought through. Even the cheapest model is available in high quality finishes and the attention to detail below the surface is also rather impressive - small speakers being properly internally braced and featuring crossovers of quality normally seen in speakers of a much greater price, are good examples.
We now have the larger stand mounters (2020), the floorstanders (2050) and even the subwoofer, and still the attention to detail impresses. Just two quick examples - the speaker stands have a polystyrene core to their central column, this damps them and doesn’t add much mass (the latter probably as much to keep shipping costs down, but should have sonic benefits over a higher mass filler). The sub woofer is another good example, it has a choice of adjustable slope rates at its crossover point - an issue even one leading sub woofer maker seems oblivious of. This is something which I feel is a rather important consideration, different designs of speakers have different roll off rates (some plummet quickly at low frequencies whereas others roll off more gently), this sub allows you to switch between two of the most common slope rates - sealed box and reflex/ported (as pictured below), which to me shows that a lot of thought has gone into the series and also that they have intended the sub woofer to stand alone when used with other manufacturers speaker systems (as they don’t make a sealed box speaker themselves).
I’ll be slowly working my way through the range over the coming weeks as I get time to properly run them in and audition them fully, and will then write them up properly for the website.

In a future blog entry I will detail another exciting speaker range that we are embracing at the next price level up.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Croft integrated amplifiers announced!


Glenn Croft has just announced that there will be two integrated amplifiers joining the range next week. They will both be housed in the Micro 25 casework (pictured above), will feature the Series 7 power amplifier stage and there will be a choice of either an all line level input model (£850) or one with a phono stage included (£1,000).
Naturally we can't wait to get our hands on one, we will have the phono version on demonstration as soon as they're in production.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Audio World show March 26th & 27th

We've just booked a room at the Heathrow hifi show at the end of this month, it's a bit last minute so will undoubtedly be a mild panic (I'll be the one having the nervous breakdown in the corner), but we've wanted to get our name out there a bit more and this seems like the ideal opportunity.

We're in the process of choosing the system we'll be bringing along, so cannot confirm details just yet, but once we've chosen it I'll post post giving some more details.

We'll be in syndicate room number 1, are always happy to play any CDs and LPs you want to bring with you. Please come along and say hi!

Music: Kaki King

The temptation to write lots of blog entries about music might prove rather difficult to resist, and here on my third post is the start of a possibly slippery slope.

I love the way that one artist or piece of music can lead you into another, an evenings musical indulgence could well seem random to the observer, but often one piece of music will remind you of another - perhaps a riff will sound familiar, or the albums share a common musician or producer and before you know it LPs are sprawled across the floor and a musical journey has taken place.

This sums up my first experience of Kaki King, when I learnt that she performed with one of mine and my colleague Mark's all time favourites groups, the Mountain Goats (who I will no doubt eulogise about them here all too soon as the new album is imminent), she definitely warranted further investigation.

Whilst I'm sure that she is probably not that keen on the following videos existence, she wrote the music and played on Mosquito Repellent and despite, or perhaps because of the mishap this video is a firm favourite and to me captures that special energy a great gig can only achieve (if you expect only audiophile grade links from me you're going to be sorely disappointed!)
If you enjoyed that please check out 'Supergenesis' on youtube recorded at the same gig, which shows some very cool slide guitar work.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, these performance were in 2008 and she'd already released three recording by that time (now up to 5 full length albums).

Away from such performances Kaki King is a songwriter, singer and guitar player and whilst very good at all three it's the latter that really makes her stand out. Whilst drawing parallels to similar artists is a very lazy thing to do, I can't help but think of the late Michael Hedges, whose style was similarly unusual and spectacular.

For me it's the earlier Kaki King albums that really stand out, the style of 'Everbody loves you' and 'legs to make us longer ' are refreshingly uncommercial and. seemingly uncompromising. This performance on Lettterman is a good taster of what to expect.

The 2008 album Dreaming of Revenge shows a style maturing into more conventional tracks, the guitar is still prominent but not the only focus. The video for 'Pull me out alive' gives a taster of the albums most commercial track. The video in itself is also well worth watching, their description of it is as follows:
"The video was made without film cameras -- it consists of over 5,000 still photographs shot on Nikon D30s. There are no special effects; all of the light trails were created by hand, with up to eight individual "light animators" flashing LEDs and flashlights on and off over a long (8 second) shot exposure."
I have only recently purchased the latest album 'Junior' and at this early stage I am a little under whelmed, it's almost as if some outside influence or perhaps desire to make a bigger name for herself has made it a more commercial rock oriented album, with the guitar playing taking something of a back seat and the quirkiness and originality of the earlier albums being diluted. On top of it all is has the curse of a very compressed sounding recording. Perhaps it will grow on me in time, and ultimately I’d have to say that an album by Kaki that doesn’t quite hit the spot is still well worth listening to.


Chris from Sound Fowndations visited me this week, he distributes Furutech products in the UK and was showing me some of their latest products.

Now I'm going to win no favours here with Chris, but I've never made it a secret that I struggle with the perceived value for money of some of the Furutech accessories, not their connectors - which when looked at closely show that a great deal of thought and time has gone into developing and making them, it's the slightly quirkier products that leave me scratching my increasingly balding scalp.

The Destat (the original hand held static reducer) was a perfect case in point, and this week I saw the new Destat II, which is at least prettier than the original (pictured below).

Neithers cheap looking plastic cases have the feel of a product that reflect their prices (if forget the exact amount but it was in the region of £350) and I cannot see what is so special (nay, costly) about a device that reduces static charges, this sort of thing is nothing particularly radical or new (or unique to the hifi industry), and their bumf does little to convince me otherwise. Even without getting my screwdrivers out they appear to be a fan blowing across some electrodes...

The literature describes it as "The powerful fan removes dust while the Destat II's balanced ion flow generator -releasing just the right balance of positive and negative ions -eliminates static"

I also remain unconvinced that it's the problem that requires this sort of expenditure to solve, sadly I didn't get to properly experience what the Destat II did to CDs (it has a handy locator for discs to be placed on top of it) as their was traffic noise and a dem going on upstairs at the time, but on a very quick try here, in the showroom system the difference was either very slight or non existent (you only get one shot of course, so no chance to compare it to the original). .

What however did amuse me immensely was the neat 'toy' Chris bought with him to show how effective the static eliminator was. Made by Sunhayato the 'Locator' was a small gizmo that gave a reading of kV of the static charge of surfaces bought near to it. This is the sort of item that could prevent me getting any work done for days on end, the fascination of reading the static charge on all sorts of random objects just didn't seem to grow old.
What it did show was that the Furutech Destat II did make an obvious reduction in the readings we got, effectively reducing them to background levels. It was also interesting to note that the static charge of the CD drawer was much higher than that of the discs we measured.

What was quite curious was the reading I got off a fairly new pair of speakers, these were only a couple of weeks old and repeatedly showed a charge of 7kv on their tops, the highest of anything I measured here. A hand placed on the surface would see the charge disappear down to normal levels (seemingly about 0.5 to 1kv) yet within moments of removing, the charge fully returned, other speakers with similar construction around the area didn't exhibit the same behaviour so can only assume it was due to a coating on the wood veneer or one of the finishing processes. It's almost certainly an irrelevance, but interesting to note this behaviour. I don't know why, but we didn't think to see if the charge could be removed more permanently with the Destat.

Is this likely to mean anything sonically? I cannot see it myself, but it doesn't stop it being quite fascinating.

I think I will have to get one of these gadgets as I can see a real use for it, especially for looking at ways to more effectively reduce static on turntables (where even the greatest doubter of such things should agree that here's a situation where static is not only irritating but also at times audible) and for further experiments with the Nordost Eco 3 spray which does seem to have the static reduction properties claimed.

Of course it's quite possible that when it arrives I'll be spending my time wandering around measuring a multitude of surfaces rather than getting any actual work done...

My first blog...

I've written a lot of stuff that doesn't seem to have a place on either our website, twitter or facebook so thought a blog might be a suitable home for it.

At the moment I'm not quite sure whether I'll have time in the evenings to keep it regularly updated, but will give it a go for a few weeks and see what happens. Naturally any feedback will be gratefully appreciated!