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December 2009 Members DIY Night

The lineup of the night was Mark's Oppo multiplayer (Rasmussen modded) feeding Mark's valve preamp with it's valve supply and then into Davids's 100 watt amp (an upgraded Jaycar) a surprisingly clean and detailed sound with no fatigue at all and rather smooth, too. Mark's folded horn Fostex 206 full range speakers easily filled the room with a quite well controlled and even sound with the broad choice of music.

Then Doug's 3 way speakers were fitted. They had a well damped smooth sound with a well controlled and extended base response due to the unusual tapered damping system used. I think this will be emulated in many other DIY speakers in the future.

The night was completed by Bob's unique horn speakers. Every year Bob brings a pair of his totally original designs to the surprise and delight of many. Features of the "static" displays were Red's 10Y DHT tube preamp, Mark's KT88 power amp, Dave's LM4780 amp, Bob's NAD CD player with Burson clock and o/p stages and David's newly arrived speaker drivers with the massive JBL field coil base drivers.

While on the subject of DIY, it's worth noting previously I have not paid much attention to the idea about the "absolute phase" connections from amp to speakers (previous article MAN). However recently at Dave's, it was quite plain to hear the difference between reversing the polarity of both L&R speaker connections at the amp, a very pronounced change in the midrange - just to complicate things, it is also pretty obvious that some CDs like the connections "normal" and others just sound better with them "reversed"!

It leads one to wonder whether a change-over switch (&/or relay) may be the answer and this is something that could quite easily added to the amp's terminals. You learn something every day, eh!

James Hill

December 2009 An Evening with Soundsmith

Members and guests were treated to an extraordinary high end opportunity when Peter Ledermann, founder and President of Soundsmith USA passed through Melbourne last week. He brought with him his latest cartridge, the Moving Iron Sussurro and one of the lower cost ($5000 USD!) and more portable Strain Gauge cartridges.

For those interested in the technology behind the Soundsmith range of products his website www.sound-smith.com is well worth a look. The system used on the evening comprised Russell Spokes and Brian Nesbitt's all acrylic Aussie designed and made Versimilitude turntable with a RRP of $20,000. This sported the new 12" Reed are made in Lithuania of all places. Plus James's Pass Labs pre, an excellent solid state phono stage designed and built by Tony Graddon, unique twin 845 30wpc Class A monoblocks designed by Lucas Cant and built by him and Lewis Muratori. My speakers, also designed and built by Lewis Muratori. They're large three way floor standers with an Audax 15", 6" Focal Kevlar Mid and Scanspeak Ring Radiator tweeter. Cabling was a mixture of Vanden Hull and homemade.

It's never easy to assemble high end products from different homes into a oneoff system for the night and expect them to work after no more than an hour's plug, play and test. Fortunately the audio gods smiled on us that night. The sound was excellent with many members commenting it was the best they'd ever heard in the Willis Room. The sweetest praise of all came from Peter who, in his forty years in audio has listened to some of the finest no expense spared systems around the world, who kept saying "I didn't expect this, that sound is fantastic". A wide range of LP material was chosen from members own collections that they brought with them on the night. All tastes were catered for.

How did the cartridges sound? Amazing. The system was intialised using Russell's own MacIntosh MCC800 (approx. $3000) before we moved on to the Sussorro. The difference was immediately obvious. Greater depth and transparency. Some preferred the Moving Iron design feeling that although it was lean by comparison to the S.G. it had greater dynamic contrast.

All agreed the S.G.'s ability to meticulously track the record groove and deliver the information contained therein was nothing short of breathtaking. Bass was cleaner the mids were sweeter and the delivery was lightening fast. Any tiny little niggles there may have been with its performance were dispelled when late in the evening Russell decided to change the arm's VTA. It had been optimised for the Sussoro and when the cartridges had been switched realigning it had been rushed. This adjustment had a noticeable effect on dynamic contrast. The second to last track played was Stevie Ray Vaughn's Tin Pan Alley. Someone decided to dim the lights and we sat there in near darkness listening to incredibly dynamic music issuing from a soundstage that had to be at least 25ft wide and 15ft high.

Both cartridges are excellent. The Strain Gauge is audibly superior to the Moving Iron as its ability to track record groove is nothing short of astounding. However at this level of audio excellence personal preference comes into play as an influencing factor. What is demonstrable technically superior, and there's no doubt the Strain Gauge is, may not suit the listening tastes of some in much the same way as some might prefer a Ferrari to an Aston Martin. Now there's a decision problem I wish I had! Pretty pics were taken but as yet I have not received them so they will appear in next month's MAN. Once again our thanks to all the members and non members who pitched in with equipment, ideas and physical assistance to make this a truly memorable evening.

Matt Jelicich

Some photo's of the evening can be found here...

November 2009 Rockin with Rockian

As is always the case, Ian Hooper brought us up to date with the latest trends in the audiophile recordings sector. Of particular interest was the role Blu Ray is starting to play in the industry. Have we finally found a new standard? There's no doubting the audio, as well as visual, excellence Blu Ray offers but lurking in the background is the vexing question of new hardware and backwards compatibility.

The will always be early adopters and new consumers keen for the latest and greatest as young people enter the workforce but is the rank and file keen to purchase yet another player? Ian said, on the basis of statistics released so far, the Blu Ray market both in terms of software and hardware is growing. This has been assisted by manufacturers being careful to ensure that Blu Ray players are multi format.

Bev's Bazarr was a hit with members and yet again we owe a deep debt of thanks to Greg and Yvonne Osborne who every year, and at their own expense, bring a fine selection of modern high end equipment to the Willis Room so we can hear Ian's audiophile recordings at their very best.

James Hill

October 2009 Panel Discussion : The Box

Members who attend our GMs, by virtue of habit and precedent, always look forward to the evening's musical presentation so you wouldn't think a talkfest would cut much chop would you? Well, October's non musical evening was not only well attended we needed many extra chairs to accommodate the size of the audience it was also hard to terminate.

By 10.55 pm we felt the panellists had done more than their fair share of contributing and called a halt to the proceedings. Had we not there's no doubting a hard core of eager to learn and share enthusiasts would've stayed well past mid night.

The evening was a resounding success. Our thanks go to our erudite presenters; Jim Menadue whose instructive analysis of room acoustics was a revelation to many, Doug Tipping whose instructive speaker design and build wisdom shone through the Q & A opportunities interspersed in his presentation, Hugh Dean as always the sagacious doyen of amplifier design and performance and faultless presenter, and Lucas Cant, a mystery man to many, whose prodigious knowledge of ground up electronics design and construction so fascinated members that it generated a surfeit of enquiries.

To those who couldn't be there on the night my apologies for not having some of the panellists' pearls of audio wisdom to share with you. The evening was recorded and, if the recording proves to be successful, we will distribute copies upon request.

James Hill

September 2009 An evening with Alan and ELSs

In the September GM, Alan Gregory returned to the Club with his smaller, medium efficiency, domestic sized electrostatic speakers and it's totally reengineered power supply with it's "film saving" standby system, variable "tone setting" adjustments, and constant 8 ohm load - a rather remarkable development, indeed.

We'd hoped to use the Luxman M4000 amplifier but it's auto protection reacted badly to the transformer load, and so used Alan's big Yamaha pro-audio amp instead and, unfortunately, as the Lux valve preamplifier didn't match up very well to this either, we used John's Rotel preamp and Matt's modded Arcam CD player. The sound worked out surprisingly well with interconnects by Van den Hull and Matt's top silver/ gold amalgam cables.

The source material was a very broad selection of first quality Japanese and German pressings, that appealed to all our varied tastes - thank you David and for your "disc jockey" presentation.

After the delayed coffee break, we turned the speakers slightly outwards, rather than toed in, (thanks, Ron N) and then turned the subwoofers to point further towards the sidewalls, and with fewer people in the room, the relatively small electrostatic panels really produced a very wide, clear and detailed soundstage with much cleaner base at quite realistic volume levels - the system really came alive!

As Alan said, these speakers dispelled my reservations about volume and high quality sound of electrostatic speakers in the Willis Room full of people - a welcome surprise, and many thanks for Alan demonstrating his speakers for us.

The "big daddy" full sized Contradiction Speakers have just been finished and with their 3 slender integrated panels built into a shallow curve, for a total driven area of 2.5 SQUARE METRES (25 times the size of a conventional 15" driver!), they recreate a true "wall-to-wall" sound at up to 105 dB, from 30 Hz up to 30KHz within 1 dB!! - no subwoofer required!

Development work continues with the multi-transformer power supply (v. expensive!) with variable panel delay for wider dispersion, etc and hopefully, we may be able to hear these in the completely integrated system (electronics and acoustics) in the near future.

Some people commented about the amount of system "tweaking" during the presentation - my apologies to those that find it distracting. It's not just to get a better result in the large Willis Room full of people with the lower efficiency domestic equipment, but also about showing how simple, small changes can produce quite noticeable alterations to the sound - they're usually quite straight-forward simple adjustments that you can try out with your own system at home and I'd really like to encourage everyone to "fiddle with their system"!

James Hill

August 2009 An evening with Wavelength Audio - USB DACs

Thank you all for making a rather nervous, new program coordinator welcome - it gives me a lot of confidence that you don't hesitate to correct mistakes, offer advice, add details, etc. It's highly appreciated and we all benefit from the member`s extremely wide knowledge base.

Geoff Ley presented three of the very musical Wavelength Audio DACs, with a Mac mini computer and the now familiar rather neutral, Passlabs X2.5 preamp. This complimented the DACs very well and silver Interconnects were used for better detail and control. The power and speed of Matt Jelicich's Soraya monoblocks (Hugh Dean's top model) dominated the attractive Epos ES2.5 speakers via the excellent Van den Hull speaker wire (both on loan from Hifi Exchange) and that's how the system was developed - the dreaded Willis Room boom was, as always, the unknown factor.

The Wavelength DACs have a supporting article, so I won't repeat technical details other than to say one of the most noticeable characteristics of all of three 3 DACs was a nearly total lack of fatigue with no appreciable loss of detail, transient response or freq response - a most difficult accomplishment, indeed.

The sound of the system was very good. However after advice to raise the drivers off the floor (thank you), we managed to tilt them back a bit which reduced the bass boom. The quality of sound these modestly priced speakers produced was a very pleasant surprise. They also delivered a well defined stereo image for such widely placed open room speakers and the system didn't deliver any nasty even at higher volume levels. A lack of internet access when loading members tracks into the computer, caused the loss of some song titles, artistes etc creating only a minor short term problem.

Many of us are surprised at the price of these DACs, because we can`t help thinking of them as just another computer add-on when, in actuality, they are far more difficult to master than preamps, amps, etc and being more specialized are hence expensive.

However with a computer source and virtually unlimited storage plus ease of operation, we are able to expand our music library at very little cost or difficulty and reproduce an audibly higher quality sound compared to many of the top shelf stand alone CD players few of us can afford. Viewed in that context the DAC`s initially higher cost is a reasonable investment in a top quality source complimented by a very low music cost.

The basic model, the Proton, a tiny little box of magic has a similar sound to the top model even with a fully transistor output stage plus a built in analogue computer controlled volume control and a top quality headamp!

The mid model, the Brick, with its necessary Mortar power adapter has the softer very attractive sound of the Phillips multibit DAC chip (16b/44.1k). With its valve o/p stage it is very easy to live with and exhibits none of the common fat bass or rolled off treble.

The Cosecant, the top model that Geoff brings in, has all the benefits of the well known Wolfson DAC chip (24b, 96k) and its very high quality valve output stage gives a sound that is best described as "just right" with all types of music. Thank you all for an enjoyable first

James Hill

July 2009 Blu-ray Audio

This night was about playing high definition audio using the new formats of HDDVD and Blu-ray. While the emphasis was Blu-ray, we also had a standard SACD/ CD player for comparative purposes.

The players were:

Panasonic DMP-BD80 Blu-ray player ($600) with full audio decoding and 8 analogue outputs. This is one of the latest and greatest Blu-ray players. Only released in June 2009.

Soniq BDP-300B Blu-ray player ($270) without full audio decoding for the stereo only analogue outputs. It does, however do bitstream through HDMI, for modern receivers that fully decode the hirez formats such as DTS-HD MA. This is a cheap multi BD zone player.

Toshiba EX1 HD-DVD player ($900) with full 6 ch analogue outputs but without full audio decoding for the analogue outputs. Full bitstream is not available.

Denon 2900 SACD/DVD-A/CD/DVD-V multi player ($1700 many years ago)

All players were set up for stereo playback only. Switching between players was done using mechanical switches. This provides an equal playing field with no electronics interfering with the comparisons.

The rest of the system:

- To support Chris`s impressive array of players, James contributed his Pass Labs X2.5 pre. Through the Perspex cover the MAC uses to prevent members inadvertently touching exposed electronics one could see the internals, laid out with almost military precision.

- These fed Jonathan`s Behringer CX2310 active crossover, with the crossover point between 100 and 120 Hz. The low pass went into a Behringer FBQ3102 graphic equaliser (in case the bass needed boosting to cope with the Willis Room). The output of this went to a Behringer A500 amplifier, and this in turn powered two Lambda Acoustics PB12 sub drivers in 60 litre sealed cabinets.

The crossover`s high-pass went out to Matt`s Soraya amp (made by Hugh Dean) and the main speakers.

The two way bookshelf speakers (woofer, tweeter + super tweeter) used were made by Doug. Their most interesting feature being the 5 aluminium driver constructed entirely by Doug himself. This was both admired and commented on by many members.

Due to the haste with which the speaker system was assembled we omitted to toe the speakers in. Therefore until coffee break the sound was clean and deep but lacking a proper centre image. This was rectified after the break and the smaller number of members present enjoyed a far more realistic soundstage The main power amplifier was Matt`s trusty 100 w Nirvana + from the Hugh Dean stable.

June 2009 AGM and Vinyl night

Following the formal business of the AGM, members were treated to a vinyl only presentation reminiscent of the club's halcyon years. The equipment used was provided by:

David: Linn Turntable (original LP12 Sondek from 1976) with modified Rega RB250 arm and a Linn Asak cartridge (mid-80s made for Linn by Supex)

Chris: Hafler DH101 pre-amp and 3-way Vifa/SEAS DIY speakers.

Simon: Marantz MA6100 monoblocks.

A wide range of LPs was played, all coming from member's own collections. The selection ranged across all genres examples being: The Los Angles Philharmonic playing Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, Harry Belafonte's Island in the Sun and Jethro Tull's War Child.

Our thanks go to all the members who pitched with equipment and/or LPs. It was another fine evening drawn from the club's own resources.

Matt Jelicich

May 2009 Yamaha Presentation

This month, we had the pleasure to hear from Dale Moore, Marketing Manager from the A/V Division of Yamaha Australia and Simon Tait, Product Manager who gave a presentation on their latest high end stereo equipment offering.

The following is a summary of their presentation:

  • Section 1 - A history of Yamaha. Including a summary of how Yamaha began and a basic timeline summarising the journey of Yamaha from humble beginnings into the manufacturer of premium musical instruments and home entertainment products.

  • Section 2 - Some of Yamaha's finest achievements. Highlighting some of Yamaha's finest achievements from both a musical instrument and Hi Fi perspective, including how Yamaha coined the phrase Hi Fi.

  • Section 3 - Yamaha's latest HiFi Products. Technical details of Yamaha's latest Hi Fi products including the flagship series - the A-S2000 and CD-S2000 and working our way down the range to our A-S700 and CD-S700. We also discussed the flagship speaker series - the Soavo-1 now available in piano black finish, as well as the recently released NS-700 series.

    There were music demonstrations throughout the session and plenty of question time.

    The following products were demonstrated.

  • A-S2000 amp / CD-S2000 player / Soavo-1 Floor standing Speakers.
  • A-S1000 amp / CD-S1000 player / Soavo-2 Bookshelf Speakers.
  • A-S700 amp / CD-S700 player / NS-F700 Floor standing Speakers.

    The Presenters were:

    Dale Moore has been working in the industry for over 10 years in a range of positions predominately in marketing and sales. He has also worked closely with Yamaha Japan on developing products for the Australian market.

    Simon Tait has been working in the industry for over 3 years with previous experience in music production and has technical qualifications as an audio engineer. He has also spent over 15 years servicing and repairing A/V equipment and has further trade qualifications in audio electronics.

    In all a very informative and interesting night and we thank Dale and Simon.

    Web Ed

    April 2009 A great audio debate

    The top down , bottom up comparison caused a few stirs and I've collected a few of the emails about the night:

    I was a little concerned last night that the volume level some of tracks were played at may have caused arcing but your ESLs seemed to stand up to the punishment really well. They may have been a little too high in level but there's only a need to turn it down if the protection circuit comes in or they arc. Neither happened. 63s do stress a bit if too loud . Not knowing the music I can't say if that happened. Nobody complained about distortion so they must have not been stressed. I only noticed a few moments that might have been distorted but not knowing the music, I can't be sure.

    For what it's worth:

    1st setup with good NOS CD player and great preamp into average speaker, Mission I think they were? Interconnect leads, main amplifier (Hugh's Soraya) and speaker leads were the same throughout. Star Wars was dreadful. Many of the next lot sounded excellent with some stuff sounding great. One or two tracks sounded great. Only drawback was the bass sounded rather wrong with some sounds. Can't say if it's lower mid or upper bass or just bass. Some bass/mid sounds sounded like it was coming out of a small box (which it was).

    2nd setup with Rotel CD player & Hafler preamp into ESL63 speakers. Star Wars wasn't as bad but still lacked any life, mud as Matt described. From then on the overall balance seemed a bit more restrained and not as strident as the Missions. The funny mid/bass was now correct with a much fuller sound which improved the listening immeasurably. (I know from experience that the Hafler is fairly neutral but certainly smooths the sound a bit which might have slightly contributed to the source's slight dullness.) Some bass tended to be overbearing but usually was sufficient. I suspect that Dipole speakers when pushed loud are not suitable in the Willis room, this was apparent to some with the Jamo dipoles from last meeting.

    So as a comparison: The small box of the Missions was unable to properly deliver the quality delivered to it but with the right sounds sounded magnificent. The Rotel CD player & Hafler preamp let the ESLs down by not providing a highly defined sound which also sounded a bit "muddy" sometimes and was a bit lacking in crispness. Which would I prefer, first or second setup? Probably the first except for the boxy/bassy problems with the Missions which I would find intolerable. So, then, knowing what things cost I would choose the 2nd and upgrade the CD player. Also, a CD is not the only source these days so not having the best CD player isn't the end of the world. So, due to circumstances I'd choose the 2nd.

    Final setup with NOS player , good preamp and ESL63s: In my estimation the addition of the better source made the whole thing come to life. Some tracks were obviously terrible but then a new track with good quality audio was fantastic. Better source equipment definitely showed up the disc material quality.

    (BTW, the Vangelis track of "Friends of Mr Cairo" , while great music is bad quality. I have both CD and vinyl of it. Vinyl is only slightly better). Many were surprised at how loud the Quads would go with plenty of bass. I wasn't. One clue is that two of the last few tracks had an applause afterwards. That tells a lot about how the overall sound of the equipment was.

    Again, it comes down to the original signal source, the quality (or lack thereof) of the CD's played. I agree the Star Wars soundtrack was awful, of insufficient quality to demonstrate what the evening was about. Although greatly revered, the Fleetwood Mac track was never a paragon of great recording quality and the Oscar Peterson piano did not sound like a real piano on any system. What the Club needs is a couple of CDs rated impeccable in recorded quality and revered as a standard. If this track(s) was played every time we test a piece of equipment or system it wouldn't take long to appreciate great quality or the converse.

    Let's not forget that there were some really nice recordings as well, particularly of the classical kind. It could be argued that the music was representative of what we play at home. We know that crap recordings make for crap quality but we also know that crap gear gives poor quality. A recording defines the end result, but so does everything else to a degree. Those that define quality by the disc quality perhaps are of the 1st system creed. Then there are those of the 2nd creed whereby the final result is determined more by the speakers since historically speakers have always been the weak link. If the disc is able to be assessed so easily then perhaps the basic CD player wasn't basic enough. Maybe?

    Maybe it shows that a basic CD player is still a capable device and thus system 2 has better merit. I.e.. not requiring a fancy CD player to give better (not best) sound. The idea was to compare top down to bottom up systems , not to appraise every other aspect. David Cathro and the committee thought that the equipment chosen would fulfil those test requirements from what we could muster up. Every opinion stated should keep that in mind and not deviate "too" much. The night was called "A Great Audio Debate". It's creating discussion, that's good.

    I have kept names off to protect the innocent but those on the egroup can figure them out. Unfortunately nobody provided any photos of the night so a thousand words will have to suffice.

    Chris Mogford Editor

    March 2009 Qualifi - Marantz & Jamo

    The Melbourne Audio Club were privileged to have Qualifi come to the Willis Room. Qualifi are distributors of Marantz and a number of other brands including Jamo speakers.

    Paul convened the evening with good humour and we were first presented with a short history of Marantz which was most illuminating. This was followed by listening to a small pair of Jamos and later with the huge dipole speakers which had prodigious bass.

    The product placement of Marantz in the current environment was interesting. Good to know how Marantz fitted in between Denon and MacIntosh. Denon gear is no slouch either.

    Later, after the coffee break we were treated to a surround system of the highest pedigree. The Marantz projector capping it off. With a combined cost of well over $100,000 it performed very well. As we know the Willis room is not the best room for acoustics but when Dire Straits strutted it had legs, long legs.


    February 2009 Mains Filtering

    A special night highlighting the difficulties of mains and it`s influence on hifidelity. It has been argued for a long time the relevance of mains filtering. This is in regard to mains supply, mains filtering and mains cords. This night we mainly looked at mains filtering with add-on devices between the wall socket and the hifi under test. Simon came fully prepared with a noise maker to make matters worse for the mains.

    Firstly we compared the quality of listening with noise and without. I think it was fair to say that the majority of hands shown indicated that the quality improved when the noisy generator was turned off. With that done it was assumed that we then try to see how well the filters perform at the next level, that is, with normal mains. The generator was disconnected for the rest of the evening. Nobody kept tabs on votes for each filter so I'll generalise the results.

    We to'd and fro'd between filters and no filters and even tried a few comparisons of filters in a sequential manner while changing music at defined intervals. Difficult to remember individual comparisons but here are some: The minor filters didn't seem to result in instant listening pleasure and voting was mixed if not reticent. The first approval seemed to be the rack unit balanced transformer. (Sorry don't remember the member's name, you know who you are). The voting was generally in favour of the unit providing positive results.

    The chunky mains filter didn't seem to do much. The power conditioner had mostly positive results which actually surprised me since it has no hifi credentials and is used in development of mains products by providing a regulated 220V. While initially positive further listening tended to be ambivalent and was not as definitive. Finally David's large balanced transformer of humungous weight was listened to. Arguably the best improvement of sound for the night. While sometimes it sounded wrong for some people on some sounds, overall almost everyone agreed that it provided the best improvement for the majority of types of music and audio spectra. So it seems that bigger is better. Balanced transformers provide best results.

    Chris Mogford

    January 2009 Buy, Swap and Sell

    We came, we bought, we swapped and we sold. We also ate a rather large amount of Pizza so all in all a good time was had by everyone. And nice to be back in the Willis room.