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.