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Russ Andrews RANS-1 Network Switch

My sample came pre-used through the review circuit (we’re not the first to review the RANS-1, and the box it came in free from instructions and was more ad hoc than we’ve come to expect from Russ Andrews), so there was no need for running in and the box was good from the get-go. I used it to connect the Linn Klimax DSM tested in this issue, both to the outside world and to a range of servers (Naim and Melco) during the test. I also compared it with the Melco S100 switch and a baseline Netgear eight-porter. Finally, I compared it to the Network Acoustics ENO filter and used that in and out of the digital chain.

The RANS-1 fared extremely well in all settings, demonstrating a quieter, more controlled sound throughout. Naturally, its biggest differences were heard comparing this to the Netgear baseline switch. This budget device seemed to give the sound a nasality and unsatisfying forward-brightness to the sound that might seem initially ‘clean’ but was ultimately ‘grating’. This applied whether streaming locally or online. Swapping that Netgear box out for the Russ Andrews
RANS-1 switch (with no other changes) was a subtle shift in the right direction, making music more approachable and listenable. It replaced that fake ‘clean’ sound with a sense of balance and musical order.

The results were less clear cut between the Melco and the RANS-1, with the Melco going more for the sheer detail of performance and the Russ Andrews going for a more sonorous and relaxed approach. Both were extremely musical sounding, just musical in different directions. Finally, in the ‘compare and contrast’ part, the ENO filter levelled the playing field somewhat, making all three options less marked in performance boosts. Nevertheless, the combination of ENO+RANS-1 works extremely well… and sounds like a German experimental album title from the 1970s.

Russ Andrews RANS-1
A Kimber Kable joins the two sections of the switch

Taken on its own, the Russ Andrews RANS-1 really does demonstrate just why the audiophile network switch is a viable product in today’s audio. It’s a subtle performer, gently and quietly improving the lot of streamed audio by making it sound more ‘human’. Backgrounds are distinctly quieter, the treble is more refined and less harsh and forced sounding. There’s a sweetness and ease to the sound, but it’s one with a gently-focused sense of rhythm too. In a medium that is often accused of being loud and shouty at times, the RANS-1 shows it’s possible to be deft and delicate, without being ‘flaky’ sounding.

In truth, I’ve been sort of avoiding the whole audiophile switch due to my own digital preconceptions. Packetised data should be unfazed by its transfer through a network, but the RANS-1 makes a convincing argument that there’s more to the topic than it first appears. This is a true eye-opener.

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Type: Network Switch with external power supply
  • Ports: 8 RJ45 gigabit ethernet ports with additional shielding and damping
  • Clock: internal re-clocking with custom made Trichord unit
  • Internal wiring: Kimber Kable
    Russ Andrews 0.3m DC link cable made with Kimber PBJ and locking connectors
    4mm grounding socket
  • Casing: Custom, matching ABS cases
  • Dimensions (W×H×D): 187 × 47 × 130mm per unit
  • Price: £956.50

Manufacturer: Russ Andrews

URL: russandrews.com

Tel: +44(0)1539 797300

REL Serie T/7x subwoofer

Set-up remains the same for audio purposes; use the Speakon cable and high-level input, with the cables connected to the left and right positive and a single negative terminal of your power amplifier. Now use a vocal recording and dial the subwoofer down until it is just past audibility. Then confirm with a record with good bass; you can combine the two if you use ‘Ballad of the Runaway Horse’ by Rob Wasserman and Jennifer Warnes [Duets, Universal]. Now come back a week later and turn it down a notch, then make a cup of tea or coffee, sit back down to your system, and be a bit amazed!

So far, so REL. What the T/7x does is introduce some extra speed and weight to the bass, the sort of performance normally expected from more upmarket models in the line. Weight here is a difficult subject because the Serie T/7x does not make a small speaker seem ‘weightier’, just ‘bigger’ and more importantly ‘better’ across the midrange. I used this in particular with the Rogers LS3/5A SE tested in this issue and this proved to be both an ideal test subject and an ideal candidate for the Serie T/7x. The REL added depth to the sound, but not in the way that it changed the tonality of this well-known speaker system; more that it filled in the bottom end in the same way the SE version fills in the midrange over the original; thoroughly, but paradoxically almost imperceptibly.. The REL was fast enough to pass the Trentemøller test [‘Chameleon’, The Last Resort, Poker Flat] and provided enough reinforcement to make out a few more left-hand piano notes on the Liszt B-minor Piano Sonata played by Martha Argerich’s during her Début Recital {DG], but more importantly on this recording, it also gave that recording the sense of space and gravitas needed to make it something truly outstanding. Switch the sub off and seemingly not a lot happens to the sound, but the sound also collapses and becomes insubstantial. Put it back in and the bass is not overt or oppressive, in fact, it’s almost not there, but the way the T/7x delivers that ‘almost not there’ bass makes all the difference. And, if you compare that bass delivery to previous REL designs under about £1,500, the new T/7x has both more substance and form and less intrusion into the sound of the speakers.

REL Serie T/7x rear panel
The REL controls are easy to navigate

The speed of the Serie T/7x is an outstanding feature. Few do bass depth and bass speed like this subwoofer at anything like the same price, and for that alone it deserves very high praise because that means the REL sub can keep up with fast musical transients played through equally fast and reactive loudspeakers. Couple that with the sort of depth to fill out floorstanders in this category and it’s an exciting addition to the audio canon.

While we aren’t geared up for home cinema here, it must be noted that the REL Serie T/7x is not just for us music lovers. When used as a bass channel instead of bass reinforcement, it has the sharp transient response and directness that makes it so good for two-channel, but with more of an oomph needed to resolve what home cinema does so well. In fact, I’d argue that where previous REL subs at this price point were hi-fi subs that could be used in cinema, the Serie T/7x straddles the divide almost perfectly; home cinema enthusiasts will view this as a powerful sub that can also do two-channel music, where two-channel enthusiasts see this as the audiophile’s friend that can also speak cinema.

In audio settings, a good subwoofer should be seen and not heard like a Victorian schoolchild. REL has consistently been one of the few subwoofer brands to achieve that goal, and the REL Serie T/7x does it better than before. No, it’s not going to out-do a No. 25 or the big 212/SX from the brand, but it does draw heavily from the S/510. While in absolute terms, the S/510 is a better sub all round, the gap has closed significantly. The Serie T/7x at £999 throws down a gauntlet to other subwoofers. It’s the one to beat right now.

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Type: Front-firing active woofer, down-firing passive radiator
  • Inputs: Hi Level Neutrik Speakon, Lo Level single phono, LFE phono
  • Active drive unit: FibreAlloy™, 200mm long-throw, inverted alloy dust cap, steel chassis
  • Passive radiator unit: 254mm long-throw, inverted dust cap
  • Power output: 200w (RMS)
  • Lower frequency response: 31Hz at -6dB
  • Gain control range: 80dB
  • Dimensions (W×H×D): 36 × 32  ×36cm
  • Weight: 17.5kg
  • Price: £999

 

Manufactured by: REL Acoustics

URL: rel.net

Tel: +44(0)1656 768777

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Enleum AMP-23R integrated amplifier

The odd arrangement of feet on this amp was arrived at by calculating the exact centre of mass of the amplifier by weighing every component and the chassis so that it’s supported in a balanced fashion. The feet themselves have a loose base that’s designed to provide isolation; these metal bases are very slippery, however, and Enleum provides rubber discs to put between amp and support surface to stop it sliding. Not that this is likely to be an issue unless you put heavy cables in the back, as the operation is largely achieved with a compact remote handset that provides a few other features such as mute.

The obvious drawback with a 25 Watt amplifier is that you really need high sensitivity loudspeakers to play music at entertaining levels, 90dB at the full 1w/1m (rather than the misleading 2.83V/1m) is about minimum unless you sit very close or listen at low levels. I don’t actually have such a speaker in my usual armoury but took advantage of some JBL HDI-3800s that were in for review, these are substantial beasts with three eight-inch bass drivers and a compression driver tweeter but they offer a 92dB (2.83V/1m) four Ohm load, which is equivalent to 89dB at eight Ohms, so that’s how listening commenced.

Enleum AMP-23R internals
Small, but beautifully formed, the internal architecture of the AMP-23R is complex.

Actually, I tell a lie, as I had PMC’s mighty (and mighty hard to move) Fenestria loudspeakers in the system when the Enleum dropped I thought what the heck and hooked it up. Given the phenomenal resolution of these speakers and the relatively low sensitivity of transmission lines, the results were remarkably good with excellent delicacy through the midband and decent weight and body to bass guitar. Not Bryston 4B3 (300W) weight and body but enough to really enjoy the poise of Carla Bley’s Life Goes On [ECM] where the playing from bass, piano and sax came across in nimble and charming fashion. I also tried a dem favourite in London Grammar’s ‘Hey Now’ [If You Wait, Metal & Dust], here it was the vocal that really shone alongside the precise nature of the effects used to make it work so well. Even the low end on this was respectable, not floor-shaking but muscular. It reveals that 25W can do a lot more than expected when backed by a decent power supply.

I managed to move the Fenestria in the end and brought things down to a more sensible level with the aforementioned JBLs. These probably need an amplifier with more grip than the Enleum but produced some delicious low end with a number of tracks. The emphasis however is more on timing, texture and the many qualities of musical composition, this amp proved to be exceptionally good at revealing what makes a piece of music appealing. There is a tendency when reviewing to play the first two or three minutes of reference tracks and move on, here that proved almost impossible because the music was so captivating that I had to let it run to the end and often onto the next piece. It’s hard to say exactly how this amplifier achieves this but it clearly has a degree of musicality and charm that eludes a lot of the competition. Low power may have something to do with it and the fact that similarly equipped valve amplifiers can sometimes do the same trick would back this up, but that’s not all. I suspect that the simplicity of the circuit and short signal paths are important, that and the fact that it runs so hot, those feet aren’t tall for style points, they allow plenty of air to circulate around a box that uses its small case alone to dissipate heat.

I decided to try the AMP-23R with something closer to its own size in the form of PMC twenty5.21 stand-mounts, these aren’t particularly efficient but have a relatively easy load. This combination proved to be addictive, both components have a degree of coherence that’s astonishing and makes the music totally immersive, not to say emotionally overwhelming at times. I tried an old (usually vinyl) favourite in Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘Helplessly Hoping’ [Crosby, Stills and Nash, Atlantic] on the Melco N50 and iFi Pro DSD and was blown away by the beauty of the harmonies. Digital transfers of analogue rarely achieve a connection that’s this powerful, and all from a system that would fit in a suitcase. Haydn string quartets were wonderfully spirited, full of refined energy and verve while Radiohead’s oft monochrome ‘Decks Dark’ (A Moon Shaped Pool, XL) revealed tonal colours that are rarely glimpsed. Even Kendrick Lamarr’s ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’ [To Pimp a Butterfly, Interscope)]proved unputdownable thanks to a level of lyrical intelligibility that allows the message behind the song to come across so clearly.

Lindemann Musicbook Source II and Power II

From the Lindemann press release

Following the recently announced Musicbook POWER II, the Musicbook SOURCE is now available from LINDEMANN in its second generation as well. Both models have been carefully revised and now, as a team, offer even more musical information together with an amazing sense for timing and interplay. Sound quality at the limits of technical feasibility! 

Important to know: despite considerable bottlenecks of the electronics market LINDEMANN continues to manufacture the musicbooks in series. The production is secured for the upcoming years! This works not least owing to 100% made in Germany. 

POWER II 

In its current version, the Musicbook POWER II has become some kind of hybrid amplifier: The voltage amplification is largely provided by an ultra quality analogue J-FET gain stage; the adaptation to the speakers is handled by proven N-Core circuit technology which is used as a power buffer. The result is impressive: sparkling verve and a wealth of detail, combined with total control over the loudspeaker. 

Prices: Musicbook POWER II 500 = EUR 2,690.– / Musicbook POWER II 1000 = 3,590.– 

SOURCE II 

Likewise, the Musicbook SOURCE II has been systematically developed further – with a focus on the analogue preamp. The headphone output sounds even better now and can also drive 16-ohm headphones. 

Even more effort was put by LINDEMANN into the further development of the firmware where initial bug fixes and patches have finally turned into a completely new stack. The most important novelties are the implementation of Spotify Connect and TIDAL Connect. Moreover, there are minor and major new features such as the elimination of the lipsync problem when connecting a TV set, network standby, fixed-level line output with analogue volume control bypass, dB-linear volume control in 80 incremental steps, sampling rate display for the digital inputs, Spotify selection via remote control without using the app and many others. 

Lindemann Musicbook Source II
Lindemann’s latest preamplifier in the Musicbook line: Source II

Owing to 1-bit re-sampling, the great-sounding AKM converter modules and the upgraded preamp, the new Musicbook SOURCE II once again raises the sound benchmark for the best streaming DACs. By the way: despite worldwide supply shortages LINDEMANN will also in the future relies on the probably best converter modules from AKM and the already legendary 1-bit re-sampling process for the SOURCE II! 

Prices: Musicbook SOURCE II = EUR 3,590.– / Musicbook SOURCE II CD = 3,890.— 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST 

As you may well expect from LINDEMANN, “ancient“ models – as far as possible – can always be kept up to date. Since early November existing users of the Limetree BRIDGE, Limetree NETWORK and Musicbook SOURCE I models can also enjoy almost all features of the SOURCE II with a general and, as usual, free firmware update (if not already present)! 

For more information see www.lindemann-audio.com 

 

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Rogers LS3/5A SE stand-mount loudspeakers

To maximise benefit without ending up with a loudspeaker that costs significantly more than the base model, only the front baffle of the LS3/5A SE is made from Panzerholtz. This also facilitated an investigation into what benefits the last half century of electronic engineering might have on the crossover network, and the R1 and R2 resistors in the crossover are of a higher grade (but the same values) than the BBC circuit specifies. Such is Rogers commitment to the LS3/5A, however, that everything else remains identical to the specifications laid down more than half a century ago. And if you want absolutely identical to the original – right down to recreating something close to the original Gold Badge of mid-70s Rogers speakers – you can get that too.

The SE invites a bit of a musical conundrum though. The Keepers of the Flame will likely reject the SE version without ever listening to it. Those who want a LS3/5A because they have heard it can sound good will –hands down – prefer the SE in a straight comparison. It does everything the LS3/5A does, but with a little more pep in its step. Dynamic range is wider, soundstaging is deeper and more open, the sound is lither and music flows effortlessly, and the overall sound has a bit more of a rhythm to it. Those who think the piano tone of a LS3/5A is sweeter than the real thing will find the SE is more like an actual piano. And yet, all of these changes do not undermine the basic LS3/5A presentation; speech is still world-class, and that more accurate piano sound just sounds more like it gave up artificial sweeteners.

One of the big changes sonically is in terms of soundstage size and the ability for the loudspeaker to ‘disappear’ in the room. Typically, the smaller a loudspeaker gets, the closer it gets to a point source, making for superior soundstage properties. The LS3/5A has long had that advantage so it’s soundstaging was never less than ‘excellent’, but the SE version makes that soundstage both wider and deeper, and present a more focused ball of sound between and in front of the loudspeakers. This is most telling in the trail off from ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’, Act 2: “Tu sola, o mia Giulietta… Deh! tu, bell’anima” from the Stella Di Napoli album by Joyce DiDonato, [Erato]. Gradually the orchestra fades to just her voice and a beautiful bit of French horn playing, and the two ‘instruments’ sit perfectly in a three-dimensional space that just makes the sound that bit more enticing.

Perhaps just as importantly, the SE version makes the LS3/5A start and stop faster. Often typical LS3/5A music programming doesn’t really challenge a loudspeaker’s transient delivery, as a lot of speech and classical music is quite legato in reality. So for this test, it’s best to really push the Rogers loudspeaker to the edge of its comfort zone… ‘Becoming Insane’ from Infected Mushroom’s Vicious Delicious album [World Club Music]. When the fast back-beat kicks in, the speed and precision of the SE responds accordingly. Original LS3/5A models tend to be slightly behind the beat, but because that Panzerholtz front baffle is so inert, the pace of the sound is markedly improved.

The SE doesn’t radically change the LS3/5A. It doesn’t add octaves to the bass, doesn’t make a low-sensitivity design with relatively limited amplifier headroom suddenly become a party loudspeaker… but if it changed these things, it wouldn’t be an LS3/5A, and I’m both aware and conscious that this name game is sailing close to philosophical noodling. The point is, just that relatively simple change to a Panzerholtz front baffle makes the LS3/5A SE a better loudspeaker without undermining what makes the LS3/5A a great speaker to begin with. While that will fall on deaf ears to some, I suspect many will feel this the right balance between ‘preservation’ and ‘performance’.

Finally, there are two parts to this story. The Panzerholtz stands designed for the SE are expensive but are a worthwhile upgrade to any existing LS3/5A. Compared to a pair of old but trusty Kudos S50 stands that have regularly been pressed into service to support BBC loudspeakers, the improvement is astonishing, in a ‘Playtex’ kind of way (it lifts and separates the sound). Vocals – which are the original reason for the LS3/5A’s existence in the first place – are better projected into the room and are even more articulate. Listening to BBC (of course) Radio Four newsreaders and continuity announcers is an acid test of a loudspeaker because they are perhaps the best annunciators around and if you listen regularly, a known source. Even the mildest deviation from fidelity comes through as too much chestiness, slight emphasis on sibilants or even a mild ‘spitchiness’ to the midrange, and the loudspeaker stand ensures those elements are dealt with thoroughly. I think the stand is a mandatory ‘must include’ for LS3/5A owners, whether or not that loudspeaker has a SE suffix. It might also be a ‘must have’ for owners of post-LS3/5A designs like the Spendor Classic 4/5 or the Harbeth P3 ESR, but I didn’t have a pair of either to test.

Line Magnetic LM-512 CA preamp/LM-845 Premium integrated/power amp

The LM-845 Premium is a real gas guzzler of an amplifier built on two chassis, with the main one alone weighing 40 kilos and the ‘smaller’ unit coming it at over 20kg. The latter houses the output transformers, which gives you an idea of the manufacturer’s ambitions and how little the company is prepared to compromise. As you might be able to tell from the array of controls on the front panel, the LM-845 operates as both an integrated amplifier or as a power amp, and there are four line inputs (one on XLR) plus a preamplifier input and a control to choose between operational modes. There’s even a remote handset for volume. The array of knobs and meters on the front would suggest that it’s a measurement device for good reason as it can also measure the bias on the various tubes sprouting from the top.

There is also the option to adjust negative feedback between minimum and maximum. I listened in its full-on mode because that was how it arrived and would lend itself to less sensitive speakers than are generally chosen for 30 Watt amplifiers. However, I gave the minimum feedback option a try and got a more ethereal and soft sound that worked well with classical pieces but less so in situations where rhythm is crucial. The tube array consists of 12AX7 triodes in the input stage, pairs of 310A and 300B drivers, and the eponymous 845 triodes in single-ended mode, providing the loudspeakers’ power. The latter usually looks pretty significant, but on an amplifier of this scale, they don’t seem extreme in the least.The output transformers in the second, Premium, chassis connect to the amp with a pair of chunky umbilical cables, and speaker cabling connects to one of three impedance taps (4, 8 and 16 Ohms) on the back of this unit. Fit and finish are once again excellent, but the styling is more restrained than the main amplifier.

Listening commenced with the 845 Premium as an integrated driving Bowers & Wilkins 802 loudspeakers that are strong on sensitivity if not easy to drive. Still, the pairing worked well, unusually so for a single-ended triode. The critical tube quality of tonal colour was immediately apparent on Arve Henriksen’s trumpet and the atmospheric electronica that surrounds it. There was good depth to the soundstage too, and not too much midrange forwardness. The latter is all too common with SETs when they struggle with a heavy load, but there wasn’t much struggling going on here. I loved the depth of tone it pulled out of the basses on ‘Magnet Pulls Through’ [Tortoise, Thrill Jockey], and the weight behind the kick drum was round and deep. When the snare comes in, you can feel its snap and the pulse of the soundfield produced by the bass, which is tactile music reproduction with lots of nuances. Immediacy is a classic triode characteristic, one of the reasons for this ancient technology’s appeal, and you get plenty of it with the Line Magnetic, which brings Leonard Cohen and Herbie Hancock’s version of ‘The Jungle Line’ to life [River: The Joni Letters, Verve]. The amplifier enhances the gravelly-voiced description of Rousseau’s painting, making the imagery that much more vivid and lush.

Adding the LM-521 CA preamplifier to the system significantly enhanced all-round transparency; the low-level resolution was clearly increased, which meant that even simple pieces of music took on a far stronger sense of realism. One such being ‘Grandma’s Hands’ [Bill Withers, Just as I Am, Sussex], where the voice gains depth and shape as you might expect, but the rhythm section comes into full focus as well, now you can feel the groove as well as follow the tune. The preamplifier brings precision and definition of the quieter elements that, while it’s more revealing, is also beneficial to the musical flow. There often seems to be a trade-off between resolution and musicality, but this pairing brought a balance to these key qualities that were extremely rewarding. Allowing you to play jazz, classical, rock, you name it… and feel emotionally and intellectually involved with every piece.

Voices are a speciality, of course, each one offering up so much of its distinctive flavour when Van Morrison sings ‘Who was that Masked Man’ [Veedon Fleece, Warner Bros]in a falsetto, it strikes you to the core in a way that rarely happens. With more up to date recordings, the effect was equally provoking; the sheer presence of notes in the room giving the music a power to captivate that was inspiring. Out of interest, a pair of PMC twenty5.26i speakers were harnessed to this amplifier; these showed that the 845 Premium is no slouch when it comes to timing, letting the groove shine through on whatever was played.

Amphion Argon 3S stand-mount loudspeaker

Let’s start with an old warhorse from just about every hifi show since Noah invented the stereo pair: Hugh Masekela and ‘Stimela’ from Hope [Analogue Productions, SACD]; this was in every meaningful sense a most convincing account: solid, secure imaging, believable vocal and instrumental timbres and textures, and a superb sense of atmosphere and presence. The live recording, the audience response, and the way Masekela builds that sense of anger and injustice through his phrasing and cadence, all portrayed to unexpected levels by these diminutive boxes. It’s very, very easy to get drawn into the narrative and carried along; it’s a 10-minute track, but it felt much shorter. These speakers do that small-box disappearing act supremely well, largely failing to draw attention to themselves, and just letting the music spill forth. It’s a familiar Amphion trait, they don’t impress by being impressive, they just let the music speak for itself. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Who by fire’ from Live in London [Sony Music] was another case in point, no obvious source of sound here, just tight, natural images on a convincing and lifesized soundstage. And here comes that slightly diminutive elephant in the room; the thing that everybody will tell you about small box loudspeakers. We can’t talk about Laughing Lennie without mentioning bass, can we?

So let’s talk a bit about the bass performance. Like the Argon LS7, the 3S uses a sealed cabinet and ABR rather than the more familiar (and probably less costly) reflex port. As far as bass is concerned, it’s more about quality than quantity. Which is emphatically not to say it doesn’t do bass, there’s much more on offer in that regard than in those BBC monitor designs, for example, but the numbers don’t tell the full story. There are small standmounters whose measurements will tell you they go deeper, and louder, and perhaps they do. But what the Argon 3S gives you is tight, tuneful, convincing and, more importantly, properly focussed bass that securely underpins the music and propels it along, not woofly grumblings that rattle the rafters but don’t seem to belong to anybody in the band. Leonard Cohen’s vocals might, through the 3Ss, go more lightly on that famous subterranean bottom octave, but he sounds like a real person, performing to a real audience in a real event, because all the harmonics in his voice are happening at the same time, as they would in life. ‘Killer’ from Seal’s debut album Seal [ZTT] relies on a deep, solid, driving bass riff and the Argon 3S gave a much more satisfying rendition of that than some of those ported standmounters can, precisely because the bass traded a little depth for a lot more impact. The leading edges of the bass notes are cleanly defined, the timbre is more solid and refined, the pitch is more tuneful, and the timing of its delivery is absolutely on the money. There’s also great depth to the image and lovely, natural vocal textures. And here’s a thing, yes the same track through the Argon LS7 might go deeper and harder, but the Argon 3S feels slightly more immediate and present, lighter on its feet with a corresponding slightly better sense of bounce.

Much of this tradeoff depends on context, of course. My fairly modest, squareish, 4m room necessitates relatively nearfield listening, the floorstanders will offer more scope in larger spaces. They also scale up a little better, the NDR Big Band with Abdullah Ibrahim on Ekapa Lodumo [Enja] is given its head more through the LS7, the 3S works hard and does well, but ultimately has to concede in matters of scale to its larger sibling. But, perhaps because there’s a little less bass energy, the interplay between Ibrahim’s piano and the big band is easier to discern via the 3S, you sense his contribution more and the smaller speaker disappears more readily; so ultimately you pays your money and makes your choice. And actually, it’s quite shocking how little the smaller speaker concedes to the larger model when it comes to resolving a convincing and satisfying musical experience. The key touchpoints of timing, energy delivery, resolution and timbral detail are very evenly matched.

Young Shakespeare by Neil Young

Young’s latest release in the Neil Young Archives Performance Series is Young Shakespeare, a live solo acoustic performance recorded on January 22, 1971 at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut. It was a part of the Journey Through The Past tour, recorded just three days after the Toronto, Canada concert released in 2007 as Live At Massey Hall 1971 and only a couple of months after release of Young’s third album After The Gold Rush. This concert was recorded on film for German television broadcast and is being release simultaneously as a single LP and a package with the LP, a CD and a DVD of the concert film. This is the first official release of the music, little of which has found its way to bootlegs. A short while ago, in advance of the release, Young posted to his blog that in his opinion the concert was superior to the Massey Hall recording, “I say this is the best ever. Young Shakespeare is the performance of that era. Personal and emotional, for me, it defines that time.”

The 12-song set list is shorter than Massey Hall’s 17 songs, and eleven of the songs overlap. Half the songs were new to the audience, having not yet been released on an album. And what a song list! Twelve songs drawn from Young’s most creative period. ‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Old Man’, ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’, ‘A Man Needs a Maid/Heart Of Gold (Medley)’ – you get the picture. A collection of greatest hits performed before anyone had ever heard most of them. And when they were officially released, they were built up with a band, produced in a studio with most of the warts burned off. Here, the songs are stripped down both acoustically and sometimes lyrically. Even more than in the Massey Hall concert, this is a more intimate Neil Young, more fragile and introspective. Part of that effect is the way the two recordings document the crowd noise—Massey Hall’s audience response up front and loud compared to the distant and more muted crowd noise in the barn like Shakespeare Theatre. Part of that fragile impression comes from the more out of tune piano used in Connecticut and the greater number of wrong notes struck there, as though Young was searching for a sound he had not quite identified. Notwithstanding these more technical explanations, Young seems to have shifted his approach and squeezed more angst from the lyrics. The biggest surprise is ‘A Man Needs A Maid’. The song, first appearing as a studio release on Harvest previously left me cold, with Young coming off a bit of a misogynist, a lazy bastard unable to pick up after himself. With slightly expanded lyrics and a more contemplative mood here, he presents as a likeable guy struggling with insecurity. On ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ Young’s stage banter has been refined and his sincerity carries over into the diffident performance. In ‘Old Man’ Young seems to have wiped the earlier sneer off his face referring to the 70-year-old caretaker of his ranch, a sentiment he probably feels more comfortable with now that he is past that mark.

The recording was made by a German television crew, and the recording engineer was Dutch counterculture photographer and film and television director Wim van der Linden. It is a very well recorded concert, but not the equal of the Massey Hall concert. Or even the UCLA concert eight days later, used to pull ‘Needle And The Damage Done’ for Harvest. Much of the blame goes to the venue, with a Shakespeare Theatre being an inferior place for recording music. The voice is a little thin by comparison. The guitar lacks the three dimensional ‘you are there’ fullness found on the Massey Hall recording, but that is a tough comparison.

Unlike so much of Young’s output, this is not all analogue. Chris Bellman of Bernie Grundman used 192/24 bit Plangent-processed masters, a fact refreshingly disclosed on the back cover and record label. The 150‑gram pressing from Record Industry in The Netherlands was flat and quiet. This is an essential part of any Neil Young collection. Even if you have the Massey Hall LP set, this concert packs a more distilled punch. If it falls short of the Massey Hall acoustics, it shows Young growing up quick over just three days!

Børresen Acoustics 01 Silver Supreme Edition stand‑mount loudspeaker

The speaker cabinet itself is extremely elegant in all the speakers in the range. The walnut veneered top and side panels are extremely nicely finished and contrast well with the black and silver of the baffle, the drivers and the back plate. Maybe it’s just because I’m looking back at a pair of stand-mounts, but I find the contrast of black and silver stand works extremely well, too. A distinctive feature unique to Børresen is the triangular ports inset to the side cheeks of that boat-backed cabinet. This makes a feature of something most companies try to hide, and personally I think it looks good and works well.

The manual – common to all ‘0’ series models is extremely comprehensive, and those not handing the installation task over to experts would be wise to download the manual first, if only to work out the most expedient way of opening the boxes. That may sound trite, but we’ve all approached the task with all the subtlety of a charging rhino at times, and this well-thought-out manual makes that operation clear. It also recommends a run-in of at least 50-100 hours of music replay, and suggests (in graphic form) how the improvement tracks a sigmoid curve, improving rapidly in the first hundred hours and still improving gradually for the next few hundred hours as the curve flattens out.

Given the panoply of Aavik electronics and Ansuz goodies that arrived from Denmark on the same carnet, you might expect us to view the speaker in context, but we did more than that. We also used it with a variety of audio electronics from Burmester and Linn (at comparable costs) to Hegel and Primare (at far lower cost) to see just how flexible the speakers can be. We did use Ansuz cables and Darkz decouplers where possible.

The difficulty with integrating that large ribbon tweeter and a dynamic bass driver has been encountered several times before, in the designs of another well-known Danish loudspeaker brand (one that Michael Børresen worked for before forming his own company); Raidho. Over the years, they cracked the integration problem through clever crossover design and ever lighter, ever stiffer bass-driver materials, making the step between treble and midrange/bass almost disappear.

Børresen takes a slightly different approach by addressing the magnet ‘motor’ of the bass driver. This does three extremely important things to the sound; it makes it faster, it makes it more accurate, and it makes it go deeper. The third of these things is perhaps the most immediately surprising; every review of a two-way stand-mount gears itself up to say “given the limitations of the cabinet…” and then try to justify why that speaker shouldn’t be dismissed for being light in the bass. Here, there is no need; you get full-thickness bass down to 50Hz, and good, well controlled bass down still further, possibly to around 30Hz in room based on listening to some organ pedals at work [Albinoni’s Adagio, John Challenger, Salisbury Meditation, PIAS]. Below that, you are going to need a bigger room,and a bigger room means bigger speakers. But, this is one of those rare stand-mounts that is neither the size of a refrigerator, nor has to make apologies for itself in bass delivery. The fact it can produce that depth of bass without the cone flapping itself out of existence is impressive too.

I’m not laying the praise solely at the drive unit here though. I think that clever cabinet is contributing to that deep, powerful bass too. However, it’s so well-engineered that it’s almost impossible to hear its influence in the real world; my routine Trentemøller ‘Chameleon’ test [The Last Resort, Poker Flat] can identify any uncalled for port resonance or other problems within a few low beats, and there was nothing but malevolent, deep bass. Jason Kennedy often calls this kind of bass ‘chewy’, but in the case of ‘Chameleon’ whatever it is that lives in this track just might be chewing on the listener. That’s one of the ‘joys’ of the 01 Silver Supreme Edition; the sound is so vivid and visceral, tracks like this one get you on a more atavistic, primal level. “Whatever it is, it’s big and we should be afraid of it!” says the early hominid part of your brain.

The speed of that bass unit is vital to creating that primal effect, which – when not listening to Trentemøller recordings – helps put us in the same space as the musicians making the music itself. More importantly, the speed of that bass unit is vital to keep up with the speed of a ribbon tweeter. Except this time, it seems to be closer to the other way round; the bass unit is almost supernaturally reactive to transients, to the point where drum-pedal kicks are presented as fast as the hi-hat. Let’s differentiate ‘speed’ and ‘pace’ here; this isn’t about the timing of the drum beat (pace), but about the sound of that drum’s attack, sustain, decay and release and how there is no overhang.

That speed of instrument sound ‘envelope’ loops into the accuracy of the bass unit, which in turn matches the treble from the tweeter, the absence of cabinet intrusion, the decoupling from the stand and surroundings, and so on. This means the Børresen 01 Silver Supreme Edition presents an extremely accurate rendition of music played, to the point where other designs could be more of an interpretation. That means a fast, reactive and uncolored performance no matter what you play on these speakers. And while that can be a double-edged sword (poor recordings sound really poor here), when it works you get an open window on the music in a manner akin to Quad Electrostatics, but with the added drive and energy of a well-made box speaker.

I’ve focused on the bass unit because it’s so innovative, but in reality both units take some beating. The lighter, thinner carefully optimised ribbon tweeter is remarkably linear and doesn’t ‘beam’ as much in the process (it’s still a speaker you sit and listen to, but not one where a few inches either way ruins the sound). Like its bass sibling, it’s extraordinarily fast (even by ribbon tweeter standards) and extremely musically unobtrusive. The purity of Joyce DiDonato’s mezzo-soprano voice coupled with the weapons-grade lungs that power that voice, rings out with a vivid clarity and tonal beauty that is just emotionally intense.

I must admit, I came away from listening to the 01 Silver Supreme Edition somewhat shocked. My expectations were that this would be something akin to a Raidho with extra gift-wrapping, due to Michael Børresen’s prior connection and the overall look and shape of the design. It might be a bit better in some places and a bit worse in others. It will probably nail most of that point of interaction between ribbon and bass, but it will still be at least slightly noticeable. And, while that was almost what I heard for the first few hours, it quickly and clearly showed itself to be something altogether different. The Børresen loudspeaker is pretty much invisible in use, with no cabinet intrusion to speak of, no audible distortion from box or drivers, two drivers working in surprising harmony, and with a speed and dynamic range that will leave you wondering where the much bigger panel loudspeakers (and accompanying subs) have been hidden.

Linn Klimax DSM network streaming preamplifier

But it’s what’s inside that counts, and it’s here that Linn has distilled all of its recent work on digital audio design, and taken it to a new level. The headline ‘new level’ is the brand’s new ‘Organik’ DAC. Hitherto, Linn’s engineers were content with drilling down into the darkest recesses of a DAC, to ensure each sub-system within the DAC chip itself was carefully fed. This was called ‘Katalyst’. However, where Katalyst took someone else’s digital converter and made it as good as Linn thought it could take that chip, ‘Organik’ is a custom DAC, with the processor written in code and stored in FPGA chips (that’s ‘Field-Programmable Gate Array’ and nothing to do with swearing at pro-golfers) and a discrete conversion stage.

According to Linn itself, this “powerful FPGA processing stage uses custom-designed algorithms to provide increased upsampling, more precise volume control, and distortion free modulation. Its partnering discrete conversion stage renders the analogue signal with extremely low levels of distortion thanks to a new ultra-low jitter oscillator and carefully designed clock distribution network.”

In fairness, this is mostly ‘new to Linn’ than a completely ‘new’ concept, but once again without seeming to wave the Union flag from the rooftops, why are so many top-line British companies willing to go that extra mile and develop their own DAC, rather than choose an off-the-peg design? With Linn joining a select list of UK-based digital brands who also write their own DAC, it shows the UK to be a true digital centre of excellence.

Of course, rolling its own digits provides the company with greater control over its digital destiny, and unlocks the brand from having to dance to the tune of the chip-maker. Given we saw the AKM chip-fabbing plant burn to the ground last year, and the previous version of the Klimax DSM used the AK4497EQ digital converter chip, not dancing to the digital chip-maker’s tune sounds like a good idea.

More importantly, from a company perspective, making your own digital converter means you can shape the sound to suit your brand’s requirements. In base terms, while Linn’s boss Gilad Tiefenbrun was once extremely dismissive of DSD, the new Klimax DSM supports DSD256, alongside 24-bit, 384kHz PCM. MQA in all its guises is not on the Linn map, however. But it also allows closer integration with other digital sources and clever bits of Linn technology like Space Optimisation; this last allows the user to encode the speakers and basic parameters of the room into the decoding process, allowing the listener to dial out a significant portion of the room’s acoustic influence in the digital domain, without the need for sonic measurement or more heavy-handed DSP found in some systems. While this is the kind of set-up function that could be performed by any end user, a trained and intelligent dealer who has had experience of installing the system in a number of rooms helps a lot.

There are two and a bit versions of the Klimax DSM now. The first is the all-audio version, the second is the AV version that comes with HDMI connections. As these are identically priced, I’d say go with the AV version as it adds flexibility without undermining performance or sacrificing inputs or outputs. However, while these sections are the most physically isolated inputs possible, there remain audiophiles around the world who respond to the inclusion of AV inputs with a case of hives, so if you fall into that group, go with the audio-only option.  Then there’s the Klimax Hub option, which costs £15,000 and doesn’t include any DAC option, because it’s the preamp/hub for active Klimax 350 loudspeakers. The Klimax 350 speakers now include the Organik DAC as standard, and there is an upgrade for existing owners.

Audience Au24SE and Au24SX headphone cables

John McDonald has been designing and building top-quality high end audio components and cables for many years. His zeal for innovation and passion for music have garnered praise from industry peers and audiophiles alike. McDonald met the late Richard Smith (fellow designer and music lover) in 1972, and the two formed Sidereal Akustic Audio Systems in 1979. In 1997 they teamed up with design engineer Roger Sheker and founded Audience. McDonald has also gained a reputation for bucking trends and resisting features serving only as marketing fodder, opting instead for highly researched scientific methodologies.

The Au24SE is the upgrade to Audience’s acclaimed Au24e cable series. The cable uses continuous cast high-purity OCC copper and Audience’s proprietary geometry configuration, which seemingly aides in its remarkable detail retrieval capabilities. Au24SX offers further advancements over SE, and, “represents the biggest transformation in cable performance ever achieved by Audience.” These are strong words, which SX’s sonic performance backs up with gusto.

SX incorporates purer OCC copper, “now six nines” according to Audience, as well as higher quality insulation, via an XLPE dielectric. Additionally, SX is cryogenically treated in Audience’s in-house cryo lab. Both cables are fantastically resolving and fast. Transients ping across the soundstage with speed and precision. Their handling of harmonic subtleties and sense of finesse is exquisite. SX outshines SE in this regard, producing a level of transparency that is absolutely window-like (and large windows at that).

Musical details, both micro and macro, are clearly rendered and colourful. SE and SX both reproduce natural, believable timbres and tonalities, with SX going a step further, offering an even more organic presentation. There’s warmth here, but not so much that it masks or overly shades the audio signal. Audience has two winners on its hands with its Au24SE and SX headphone cables. Bravo.

Price: From £1,300/1.5m (Au24SE), from £1,699/1.5m (Au24SX)

audience-av.com

Reproduced from Issue 166

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Moon by Simaudio 680D streaming DAC

As you would want and expect, the Moon 680D is able to seek and play from all of the major sites and all hi‑res source material. If your home is so configured it will also support multi-room synchronous playback. The 680D offers nine input options covering all of the expected options including USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, Optical, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and aptX audio for Bluetooth, and to aid wireless set-up. The unit has two included Wi-Fi antennae giving a nod toward the robustness of the wireless capabilities. The FRM-3 metal remote is robust and very capable.

The MiND2 app is also your path toward all firmware updates. One was available during my time with the 680D. It was simple and painless. Nice to see as they typically incorporate a half dozen or so updates annually. As I opened the app it indicated a firmware release was available and initiated the update. Simaudio handles all aspects of audio in house but they do work with some outside programmers who excel at network related programming to make sure all aspects of their MiND2 works optimally on as wide a variety of systems and networks as possible. MiND2 is, of course, totally proprietary. All of the audio specific portions of MiND2 are developed and maintained in house. Once initiated, the 680D’s screen indicated an update in progress. A few seconds later it was done and on with the music I went. No Harry Potter style Dark Arts mastery required; Moon does offer YouTube instructional videos should you want to watch how to install, but these are not mandatory to set up the 680D. Given the net-savvy skills of the average six-year-old today, it’s literally child’s play.

One welcome upgrade feature is an external power supply. The £7,200 Moon 820S can provide DC for power up to two separate components, from a pool of six products in the Moon range. So, if you had the aforementioned 740P preamplifier (or, for that matter, the 810LP phono stage) it could also utilise the 820S to power both units with higher end power and greater isolation. It’s always nice to have a system upgrade path should you want one.

Speaking of upgrade paths, one challenge with DAC’s is advancing technology. A great amp or preamp can provide decades of reference quality functionality. DAC’s, however, can be surpassed with changes in digital technology. Many of my colleagues have expressed concern about expensive DAC’s becoming outdated in short order. How can you have confidence that your new pricey DAC will be credible in the future? I spoke to Dominique Poupart, Moon’s product manager, who said that product obsolescence was not a concern with Moon’s DAC design. By using daughterboards, Moon can switch out the DAC chip to something more advanced when the time comes to move on from the ESS 9028Pro chip. This would be a dealer upgrade to manage warranty concerns. Dominique did mention that since the 680D was a fresh design there were no current plans for any chip changes on the table currently, yet the path was already in the planning for the future. Also upgradeable is the MiND2 platform; should a MiND3 ever become available the upgrade for the dealer would be very straightforward. This is not an empty statement either; any owner of an original MiND streaming platform was able to upgrade in this same fashion to the new MiND2 when it became available. That’s reassuring to know when you are spending almost nine grand on a DAC! Dominique was excited that Moon is able to allow its products to evolve and yet bring existing owners along with the advances in technology.