HiFi Critic 036 Review

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HiFi Critic 036 Review
WWW.HIFICRITIC.COM ISSN 1759-7919
HIFICRITIC
AUDIO REVIEW MAGAZINE
£15 Vol7/No3 JUL-SEP 2013
REVIEWED THIS ISSUE:
TEAC UD-501, BENCHMARK DAC2 HGC,
MYTEK STEREO192-DSD, KRELL CONNECT, TOWNSHEND
SEISMIC CORNERS, BURMESTER 036, NAIM NAP300,
AURORASOUND VIDA, ROKSAN CASPIAN M2,
AVALON COMPAS, AUDIOLAB M-DAC,
MUSICAL FIDELITY V90-DAC, MUSICAL FIDELITY M1CLIC,
RESOLUTION AUDIO CANTATA MUSIC CENTRE,
RING AUDIO MASTER HORN-JAZZ, SPENDOR D7,
NAIM NACA5, STILLPOINTS ULTRA SERIES, PANDA FEET
SEVEN DACs A mixed bag of seven DACs include
three with DSD capability and two that stream
CLASSIC BURMESTER Stan Curtis tries out Burmester’s
least costly and most compact 036 power amp
STREAMING KRELL Assessing the Krell Connect, the
company’s first streamer, complete with DAC and
fresh from the solder bath
AURORASOUND VIDA A high quality Japanese solid
state phono stage examined by Chris Bryant
FLOATING THE SPEAKERS Speakers and stands need
spikes, right? Max Townshend disagrees and reckons
floating them on springs is the answer
NAP300 REVISITED In revisiting the Naim NAP300,
Martin Colloms discovers the benefits of an
extended running in period
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AVALON COMPAS The Avalon Compás is a
substantial floorstander that puts the emphasis firmly
on dynamic performance
LONG TALL SPENDOR Spendor’s unassuming looking
D7 has impressive but well hidden depths
MUSIC & MUCH MORE
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HIFICRITIC
Vol7 | No3
July | Aug | Sept 2013
L
ike the music we play on it, hi-fi is a broad church. My taste in music
is not the same as yours, or Joe Bloggs’ for that matter, so why should
I presume I like the same things about music reproduction? I try not to
make such assumptions, but am not sure it’s possible to avoid doing so.
Editor | Paul Messenger
Writers
Colin Anderson
Chris Bryant
Martin Colloms
Stan Curtis
Greg Drygala
Nigel Finn
Jason Kennedy
Andrew Harrison
Paul Messenger
Mark Prendergast
Publisher | Martin Colloms
Design | Philippa Steward
Published by
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the person quoted unless indicated to the
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on or the accuracy of such information.
2
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We’re well aware that music has considerable effects on the human psyche, but
don’t really know either how or why. All manner of open questions remain
about the way we interact with music, and by implication our hi-fi systems.
I first got into hi-fi, simply because I’d become obsessed with the music of the
time, and wanted to get as much out of it as possible. I’d already figured out
that I had no natural ability playing musical instruments, but could play the
record player (and the open-reel tape recorder too for that matter), and that
didn’t seem a bad substitute.
Many years on I still love my music, and also the fact that hi-fi system
improvements continue to get me closer to it as time goes by. But the changes
that particularly turn me on aren’t necessarily going to be the same as those that
will appeal to another individual, any more than we’re likely to have similar
record collections. Some kindred spirits will doubtless share my tastes, but I only
have to wander around any hi-fi show (taking care to keep lip well bitten) to
appreciate that they’re relatively few and far between.
One intriguing and usually overlooked factor concerns the age (as well as
the tastes) of an individual. For example, I was very sceptical when CD first
came on the scene, and realise with hindsight that sound quality issues were
only partly to blame. Other factors included the fact that I’d already collected
a lot of vinyl over 20 years and didn’t see much need for change; I wasn’t
into classical music so didn’t appreciate the lack of background noise; and
didn’t like the fact that those early CDs were much more costly than vinyl
equivalents (plus ca change!).
Those born after 1980 may well have missed out on the vinyl era entirely, and
have little knowledge of analogue audio. CD was their adolescent format, and
today they’re probably well into computer-based audio.
I don’t much like computers, as the sector seems obsessed with change. (My
current MacBook Pro won’t even open files I created a mere 17 years ago,
whereas I’ve 60 year old vinyl treasures.) But I’ll happily concede that they’re
exceptionally convenient (just like the cassette was, 20 or 30 years ago!).
I’ll therefore continue to spin my vinyl and play my FM radio and CD player,
but in our digital age it seems that we all need a decent DAC – my own
system currently uses three. Which is why we’re busy trying to keep up with
this rapidly changing field, devoting 13 pages of this issue to reviewing seven
of the latest examples.
Paul Messenger
Editor
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Contents
4
STAN’S SAFARI No23
Stan Curtis examines the theoretical and
practical issues surrounding the idea of a
digital loudspeaker
6
THREE DSD DACs
Computer-sourced DSD is the new hi-res
download. Andrew Harrison tries three
relatively inexpensive DSD-capable DACs,
the TEAC UD-501, the Benchmark DAC2
HGC and the Mytek STEREO192-DSD
26
31
32
12
RING A DING
Paul Messenger tries out the RingAudio
MasterHorn-Jazz, a unique part-active
speaker system from Croatia
44
LONG TALL SPENDOR
Martin Colloms uncovers hidden depths
in Spendor’s unassuming looking D7
floorstander
FLOATING THE SPEAKERS
Speakers and stands need spikes, right?
Max Townshend disagrees, preferring to
control them with springs. Paul Messenger
investigates the Seismic Corners
FOUR DACS (AND MORE!)
Chris Bryant gets to grips with four very
different D-to-A conversion approaches: the
Audiolab M-DAC, Musical Fidelity’s V90DAC and M1CLiC, and the Resolution
Audio Cantata Music Centre
STREAMING KRELL
Krell’s first streamer/DAC, the Connect, is
scrutinised by Martin Colloms
PANDA FEET!
Martin Colloms tries out a unique accessory
component for the serious enthusiast
41
10
AVALON COMPÁS
Avalon’s new Compás floorstander puts the
emphasis firmly on dynamic performance
47
Avalon’s new Compás
floorstander - page 26
NACA5 REVISITED
Given time, Naim’s speaker cable proves
capable of some surprising results
48
STILLPOINTS
Martin Colloms tries out these costly – some
say controversial – range of US isolators
49
14
CLASSIC BURMESTER
Stan Curtis tries out Burmester’s latest power
amp – the ten-year-old 036
16
22
52
AURORASOUND VIDA
54
HIGH CLASS INTEGRATION
Roksan’s Caspian set a quality integrated amp
agenda more than a decade ago. This latest
M2 variant is well worth a close look
JAZZ PICKS
Greg Drygala’s six interesting Jazz releases
56
THE BEST OF CLASSICAL
Colin Anderson discovers a new handful of
classical releases
A radical Japanese high quality phono stage
examined by Chris Bryant
24
FAVOURITE THINGS
Jason Kennedy struggles to sort out his
favourite ten discs
NAP300 REVISITED
Martin Colloms discovers the benefits of
running in a Naim NAP300 for an extended
period, and is driven to review it again
THE AMBIENT ODYSSEY
The first part of Mark Prendergast’s history of
Ambient music runs from Mahler to Eno
58
ROCK, POP & OTHER NICE MUSIC
Martin Colloms uncovers hidden
depths in Spendor’s D7 on page 44
Nigel Finn of the Chord Company with six
new releases
60
SUBJECTIVE SOUNDS
Paul Messenger gets stuck into speaker cables
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■ REVIEW
Classic Burmester
BURMESTER DOESN’T BELIEVE IN CHANGE FOR CHANGE’S SAKE, SO ITS LATEST 036 POWER
AMPLIFIER HAS ACTUALLY BEEN ATOUND FOR A DECADE. STAN CURTIS CHECKS IT OUT
Review System
Roksan Kandy K2, Naim
CDX2, Burmester 061 CD
Players; Author’s own passive
control unit; Eclipse td712,
Acoustic Energy Aelite 1,
Tannoy Definition DC10T
loudspeakers; Atlas Asimi,
Mavros cables
14
HFC_issue31 10.indd 14
B
urmester Audiosysteme was founded in
Berlin in 1977 by Dieter Burmester, and
is to my mind the premier high-end audio
company in Germany. However, its products
have been difficult to find in the UK in recent
years; a difficulty solved in recent months by the
appointment of a small but enthusiastic network
of dealers. Burmester manufactures four models of
stereo power amplifiers. The biggest is a model 909,
a 600W behemoth, while this smallest (and newest)
model is designated 036, costs £6,198, is rated
at 170W/channel (into 4ohms; circa 100 watts
into 8ohms), and is part of the company’s ‘more
affordable’ Classic line of products.
As expected from Burmester, construction and
finish are to the very highest standards, and a lot of
substantial machined aluminium helps account for
much of this amplifier’s hefty 25kg (55lb) weight.
The company logo is proudly machined into the
top cover and all the aluminium casework is etched
and anodised. The overall appearance is very smart
although one should be aware of a few sharp edges
when first lifting it out of the packaging.
Inside, construction is again of the anticipated
top quality. The bulk of the space is taken up by
a power supply board, no fewer than 24 reservoir
capacitors, and a toroidal transformer in a screening
can. Another board sits across the rear panel,
carrying all the input & output connections,
together with some RF filtering and transient
suppression of the incoming mains supply, and the
comprehensive protection circuits.
The power amplifier boards are bolted to each
of the side heatsinks via solid copper slabs. Each
has two pairs of very fast Toshiba power transistors
that are operated well within their ratings. No
information was offered about the design, but since
the amplifier draws 60W in its idling state and so
runs quite warm to the touch, it’s fair to assume
that the output runs several watts into Class A.
The front panel carries a power button alongside
two LEDs: one for power, the other indicating
‘standby’. The rear panel has a single pair of hefty 3way binding posts for each channel output, together
with XLR balanced inputs (unbalanced phono to
balanced adaptors are also provided). Burmester
recommends balanced operation, and it ties in with
the wiring methods of their other products. As
well as a power socket and switch there are remote
in/out connections for a Burmester linking system,
and a 6.3mm headphone jack, the use of which
mutes the loudspeakers.
It is some years since I last listened to one of
this family of amplifiers outside of an exhibition,
so I was keen to see if the brand had maintained its
earlier standards. I needn’t have worried. Barely half
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11/9/13 20:14:40
REVIEW ■
STAN CURTIS
an hour after switching on, while still just checking
all was well, I was immediately taken by what I was
hearing and settled down to an hour’s impromptu
listening.
Regular readers will know that I do like my
organ music, yet all too often organ recordings
can sound quite bland or heavy. But this is an
acoustic instrument, and not only does every organ
sound different in the flesh, but they can often
sound different day to day, as the tuning drifts,
the temperature changes, and tiny air leaks start to
do their worst. So there is often a lot to be heard
during an organ recital. I listened to Christopher
Herrick playing Edwin LeMare’s Concertstuck No1
in the form of a Polonaise, and it was portrayed full
of life with almost a rasp from the pedal pipes. I
could imagine the grand old showman throwing
same organist playing Alfred Hollin’s A Trumpet
Minuet demonstrated his mastery of the really
complex pedalwork in this piece. And instead of a
booming muddle of bass work, I heard some really
clean articulation of the notes, as if it had been well
played on the lower keys of a piano.
don’t get much bluer than Elmore James singing
Dust My Broom. OK, so it’s not the greatest
recording technically; probably transcribed from
an indifferent direct-to-vinyl recording. But it
has life in shovel loads and here the distortions
and colorations blended in as though he’d simply
smoked too many of those full strength tar-laden
cigarettes.
By this stage I knew the plus and minus scores
of this amplifier, and so far it was all pluses.
First, given a half decent recording, this amplifier
portrays everything in 3D. It creates an exceptional
soundstage with depth and width, and even delivers
that very rare commodity: space between the
instruments. I could recommend it for that alone,
but we are not looking at a one trick pony here.
with that comes a slight tonal brightness. Nothing
to worry me here, I should add, thanks to the
natural roll-off that years of listening to rock and
roll brings, but maybe it’s something that others
impression that the overall sound might be bass
light, but that impression is soon dismissed. Rather
it has a bass that is clean, really detailed and has so
much control that any hint of additional ‘boom’ is
banished.
I began to suspect that we had here an amplifier
which could unpeel the layers of complex
recordings so I turned to a few pan-potted studio
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HFC_issue31 10.indd 15
recordings where the entire soundstage had been
synthesised at the mixing desk. On went the Art
My Brain
of Noise’s Crusoe
Is Like a Sieve, and finally the relatively unknown
William Orbit version of Pavane pour une Infante
Defunte, entirely created on electronic keyboards. In
each case the delivery verged on revelatory, creating
space between the musical strands and letting
previously unheard sounds just peep through.
After trying this amplifier with a number of
different sources and loudspeakers, I’d already
concluded that the 036 was in the very good-toexcellent class. But there was more to come. When
finally coupled with a matching Burmester CD
player in fully balanced mode, results were magical.
therefore inevitably drawn into a late night listening
session where old discs, rarely seen in recent years,
were brought out.
So from 1968 I had Stevie Winwood singing No
Face, No Name, No Number, which went from 2D
to 3D and dragged me into the session complete
with the audible but unimportant tape distortion.
Yes, I could almost smell that recording session.
Top’s Gimme All Your Lovin’, which demonstrated
that the 036 could play very loud yet still hold
everything together. Yes, the sound was hard,
punchy and aggressive, but that’s the way ZZ Top
plays, and I loved it.
My other great musical weakness is female voice
and here it doesn’t matter if we are talking Joan
Sutherland, Karla Bonoff, Dolly Parton, Faryl
Smith or Debbie Harry. And listening through this
system, I simply loved the fact that these voices
came across with so much texture and reality.
Many tracks later I decided to tone things down
with a real old favourite; Rickie Lee Jones singing
I Won’t Grow Up. Of course she always delivers
and her voice seems to have been designed for
demonstrating hi-fi systems, but rarely have I heard
this song sound so intimate yet with ton of vibrancy
and sheer pizzazz. And that was enough subtlety for
one day, so it was onto the Floyd’s Dark Side of the
Moon, and I listened through the whole album end
to end. Who said hi-fi is dead?!
As a power amplifier the Burmester 036
is simply excellent. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’ and no
‘excepts for’. It just does its job. But put it into a
complete Burmester system and it’s a revelation.
I’ll simply conclude by pointing out that you
probably understand that audio designers inevitably
have a bit of an ego where their own designs are
concerned. On this occasion I can only sum things
up by saying I wish I’d designed this amplifier!
RECOMMENDED
Manufacturer’s
Specifications
Power output (8ohms): 88W/ch
____________________________
Power
output (4ohms): 170W/ch
____________________________
Mono bridged (4ohms):
350W
____________________________
Input impedance unbalanced (via
XLR
to RCA adaptor): 13.5kohm
____________________________
Input impedance
balanced:
1.9kohm
(Note: these very low values are
unsuitable for valve pre-amps)
____________________________
THD
+ Noise:
<0.005%
____________________________
Damping Factor:
1006
____________________________
Signal-to-noise
ratio:
>105dB
____________________________
Dimensions
(WxHxD):
48.2x10.5x48.2cm
____________________________
Weight:
18kg
____________________________
Price:
£6,198
Contact:
Midland Audio X-Change
See: www.burmester.de
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Subjective Sounds
PAUL MESSENGER
HIFICRITIC
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D
o hi-fi enthusiasts spend too much time going round in circles?
It’s all to easy to effect a modest improvement on one element in
the performance of a system while not noticing that some other
parameter has suffered a minor deterioration. It’s never likely to
be a deliberate oversight, but it is easily done, and is all too public if a reviewer
commits findings to print.
By and large I’m cautious and conservative side in making hi-fi system changes and
component judgements, which is one reason why I try to avoid the sort of internet
chatter that all too often seems to involve mistakes (and all too rarely subsequent
retractions). And because the timescales involved are so much more extended,
hopefully giving time for some mature reflection, I’ve long felt much happier
writing for monthly (in this case quarterly) magazines than for weeklies or dailies.
One advantage of having a decent interval between editions is that it allows at
least a fair amount of time to run in components. When Martin Colloms told
me of his NACA5 speaker cable epiphany, I still had a reasonable amount of
time to prepare a set and arrive at my own opinions. I don’t normally check up
on MC, I should add, but I was particularly intrigued by his NACA5 findings as
I’d spent some twenty years using this cable and stubbornly resisting the many
blandishments of a very profitable cable sector. The last few years I have used
Chord Signature for a while before purchasing some mechanically damped Vertex
AQ cables. Going back to NACA5 would be interesting as well as nostalgic.
I managed to find an unused run of NACA5, carefully flexed it section by section
along its length, then plugged in both ends. I was then able to ‘run in’ the cable
for a couple of weeks before starting to write, and have to admit it was an entirely
pleasant experience – much of time I wasn’t even particularly aware of the change
during low level casual listening.
Winding up the volume and paying more attention did render the differences
more obvious, and also incidentally the reason why I’d made the changes.
That’s not to put down the Naim cable, which is actually a thoroughly solid
performer that sells for an exceptionally competitive price. It shows brilliant
time-coherence and fine dynamics, and also became significantly better when
I took the precaution of ‘cleaning’ the various Burndy connectors that link the
external power supplies to the Naim pre- and power amps. (This merely involves
unplugging and replugging both ends of the lead a few times in order to clean
the contacts, and is a procedure that ought to be carried out roughly every six
months or so.)
Despite its undoubted good points, NACA5 also has some less enjoyable
characteristics, which is why I started looking elsewhere. The top end sounds
rather untidy and edgy, so I started searching for something a little sweeter,
eventually settling on Vertex AQ’s Hi-Rez Moncayo cable, which has silver
conductors and incorporates vibration absorption and RFI shielding. This Vertex
cable is a rather different proposition: the mechanical damping and shielding
make it sound significantly quieter and tidier than NACA5, with notably better
imaging, while the silver conductors also give a rather brighter tonal balance.
Thus far I haven’t found a good reason to go back to NACA5, though I’m
currently giving it another go, still like much of what it does, especially in its
coherence and dynamic expression. And I guess two weeks may not be long
enough, so I’ll persist for a bit longer. But like I said in the editorial: “hi-fi
is a broad church”, and it needs to accommodate a similarly broad range of
individual tastes.
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